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Photo: Reuters
Photo: Reuters
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CIO scramble to equip remote workers sparked best PC growth rate in decade

  • Rising demand for remote schooling, home entertainment also drove sales

The shift to remote work is jolting the lackluster personal computer market, as chief information officers and other corporate information-technology leaders raced to equip stay-at-home workers during the coronavirus pandemic, analysts say.

After a slowdown early in the year, total global shipments of personal computers in 2020 surged 11% from 2019, to 297 million units, according to a report Monday by research firm Canalys.

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The gains represent the sharpest full-year growth rate in a decade, and the highest volume of PC shipments since 2014, the report said.

Within the market, shipments of notebooks and mobile workstations rose 44% from 2019, to more than 235 million units, while conventional desktops and workstations declined 20% to 61.9 million.

Apart from an uptick in notebook shipments in 2019, combined sales of notebooks and desktops have declined steadily since 2011, according to Canalys.

Market watchers had anticipated a surge in demand for PCs, following lockdowns and travel restrictions aimed at containing the spread of Covid-19. On top of a scramble by companies to set up remote-work stations, rising demand for home schooling and home entertainment were also expected to drive up sales.

But shuttered factories in China, and snarled global supply chains, led to depleted supplies early in the pandemic.

Tech-market research firms International Data Corp. and Gartner Inc. both reported a large and unexpected decline in first-quarter PC sales.

As factories came back online, pent-up demand drove sales to expected highs later in the year, especially across the commercial sector, analysts say.

Gartner in a report Monday said Chromebook shipments in the fourth quarter increased by roughly 200% year over year, hitting 11.7 million units. Full-year Chromebook shipments rose 80% over 2019, to nearly 30 million units, driven by stronger demand in the North American education market, the company said.

Not counting Chromebooks, overall fourth-quarter PC shipments grew 10.7% over the same period a year ago, and 4.8% for 2020, to 275 million units, with corporate sales peaking early on in the pandemic. The gains were led by PC makers Lenovo Group Ltd. and HP Inc., the enterprise-technology research and consulting firm said. Gartner uses a different method to estimate shipments.

“We’ve seen many companies equip their critical resources with one or, in some cases, two laptops to ensure that business roles were not affected due to the inability to come into the workplace," said Rushabh Doshi, a research director at Canalys covering the mobility segment.

Between March and April, American Family Mutual Insurance Co. shifted more than 95% of its staff, or roughly 15,000 employees, to remote work, said Peter Settel, the company’s enterprise chief technology officer. Before the pandemic, about 25% worked remotely, he said in an email.

“We were quick to order thousands of laptops," Mr. Settel said, adding that tech teams worked around the clock to outfit office workers and agency owners to work from home.

Cathy Bessant, chief operations and technology officer at Bank of America Corp., said in the span of about two weeks last spring about 85% of the bank’s workforce began working remotely.

“In those two weeks, we delivered over 64,000 Chromebooks and 48,000 laptops" to thousands of stay-at-home workers, including 13,000 contact-center staff, Ms. Bessant said in an email.

Likewise, professional services firm Accenture PLC sent more than 80,000 computers to homebound employees around the world, including more than 2,000 desktops to staff in China within “just a few days," said CIO Penelope Prett in an email.

The company’s use of Microsoft Teams, Microsoft Corp.’s virtual collaboration tool, has increased to more than 90 million minutes of videoconferences each month, compared with 14 million minutes in March, Ms. Prett said.

“We ramped up our efforts," she said. “We’re a global company, we know that our people need to be able to work from anywhere at any time."

The Consumer Technology Association expects the U.S. laptop market this year to generate $38 billion in sales, down 2% from a record year in 2020, as millions of Americans continue to work from home. Gary Shapiro, the trade group’s president and chief executive officer, said the pandemic has “pushed the fast-forward button" on household tech adoption, according to a statement Monday.

This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text.

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