Due to the impact of COVID-19, device shipments predicted to decline 1.9 billion units

Gartner's latest forecast for 2020 is bleak for global shipments of PCs, tablets, Chromebooks, and mobile phones.

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Worldwide shipments of PCs, tablets, and smartphones are expected to decline 13.6% in 2020, according to Gartner's latest forecast report. 

As grim as those figures are, it could have been "much worse," said Ranjit Atwal, senior research director at Gartner, but "government lockdowns due to COVID-19" forced businesses and schools to scramble for new notebooks, Chromebooks, and tablets in the quick shift in March as employees had to work-from-home (WFH) and students were relegated to full-time e-learning.

In early 2020, few realized how impactful the coronavirus would be, with dramatic changes to businesses as employees who worked on-premises suddenly moved to full-time telecommuting and 90% of the world's schools closed.

The essential equipment required for e-learning and WFH have "saved the PC market from collapse," Atwal said.

SEE: Coronavirus: Critical IT policies and tools every business needs (TechRepublic Premium)

Slow slide, all decline

Notebooks, tablets, and Chromebooks are forecasted to decline slower than the PC market overall in 2020, with PC shipments expected to slide down to 10.5%. In its forecast, Gartner said in a press release, the WFH trend "will make IT departments shift to more notebooks, tablets, and Chrome devices for work." 

Desk-based PCs decline

"This trend combined with businesses required to create flexible business continuity plans will make business notebooks displace desk-based PCs through 2021 and 2022," Atwal said.

Economic downturn, too

As technology is affected, so is the economy. As published on sister site ZDNet, "Earlier this month, research firm Gartner revised its worldwide IT spending--including devices purchases, data center investment, cloud solutions, and enterprise software--predictions from $3.9 trillion over 2020 to $3.4 trillion."

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Image: Gartner

Units: 2.2 billion in 2019 to 1.9 billion in 2020

Device shipments have received a further amendment, with expenditure relating to PCs, tablets, and mobile devices set to decline by 13.6% in 2020, totaling 1.9 billion units in comparison to approximately 2.2 billion units in 2019. 

Forgoing the upgrade

People are unlikely to be queuing up to upgrade their phones; the shipments of total mobile phones are forecasted to decline 14.6%. However, smartphone shipments will achieve a slightly slower decline of 13.7% to total 1.3 billion units in 2020. 

"Users have increased the use of their mobile phones to communicate with colleagues, work partners, friends, and families during lockdowns," Atwal said, but "reduced disposable income will result in fewer consumers upgrading their phones. As a result, phone lifetimes will extend from 2.5 years in 2018 to 2.7 years in 2020." 

5G flagship phones delayed

Previous predictions cited affordable 5G phones to be the "catalyst to increase phone replacements, but it will not be the case," Gartner's forecast reported. Now, 5G phones are likely to represent only 11% of total mobile phone shipments in 2020.

"The delayed delivery of some 5G flagship phones is an ongoing issue," said Annette Zimmermann, research vice president at Gartner. "Moreover, the lack of 5G geographical coverage along with the increasing cost of the 5G phone contract will impact the choice of a 5G phone.

Because of continued investment in 5G infrastructure, China is the only country where spending on 5G phones won't be impacted and providers are expected to effectively market 5G phones in China.

After the pandemic

Gartner's forecast includes what will happen after the pandemic and predicts 48% of employees will be working from home, compared to 30% pre-pandemic. 

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By N.F. Mendoza

N.F. Mendoza is a writer at TechRepublic and based in Los Angeles. She has a BA in Broadcast Journalism and Cinema Critical Studies and a Master's of Professional Writing, both from USC. Nadine has more than 20 years experience as a journalist coveri...