Remote working and learning has changed our use of laptops, PCs and smartphones, with a new forecast from tech analyst Gartner predicting that a total of 6.2 billion devices will be used around the world in 2021.

The pandemic has already changed our usage patterns when it comes to technology, with more people turning to laptops and tablets for getting work done.

According to Gartner, the number of laptops and tablets in use will increase 8.8% and 11.7% respectively in 2021, while the number of desk-based PCs in use is expected to decline from 522 million last year, to 470 million in use in 2022.

Meanwhile,125 million more laptops and tablets are expected to be in use in 2021 than in 2020. Low-cost devices such as Chromebooks have seen a particularly sharp increase in sales over the past 12 months, with figures from Canalys in January indicating that Chromebook shipments reached 11.2 million units in Q4 2020, a 287% year-over-year increase compared to 2019. According to Gartner, Chromebook shipments increased over 80% in 2020 to total nearly 30 million units.

Tablets have also seen an explosion in popularity, with figures from IDC in February estimating that 14.6 million tablets were shipped in Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA) region in Q4 2020, a YoY increase of 11.7%.

The spike in laptop and tablet sales has been linked to the shift to remote learning. As schools closed down, parents sought out inexpensive devices for their kids to use for schoolwork.

Ranjit Atwal, senior research director at Gartner, said: “The COVID-19 pandemic has permanently changed device usage patterns of employees and consumers. With remote work turning into hybrid work, home education changing into digital education and interactive gaming moving to the cloud, both the types and number of devices people need, have and use will continue to rise.”

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Smartphones are also set for an upturn in 2021, according to Gartner, as users’ confidence in the market returns.

While the number of smartphones in use declined 2.6% in 2020, the installed base is on pace to return to growth with a 1% increase in 2021, the analyst firm predicted.

Consumers will be swayed by more reliable 5G networks and more affordable smartphones that support 5G connectivity, said Atwal, adding that smartphones have also provided a crucial communications tool for people during social distancing and social isolation.

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“With more variety and choice, and lower-priced 5G smartphones to choose from, consumers have begun to either upgrade their smartphones or upgrade from feature phones,” Atwal added.

Hybrid-working styles and more flexibility over where employees are able to work from is also predicted to bring about changes in usage patterns and user choice.

Gartner noted that organizational IT departments faced increased complexity as a result of employees using both personal and corporate-owned devices running a variety of software platforms – largely Android, iOS and Chrome – for work.

More mobile workforces will also increase demand for 4G- and 5G-enabled devices, said Atwal. “Connectivity is already a pain-point for many users who are working remotely. But as mobility returns to the workforce, the need to equip employees able to work anywhere with the right tools, will be crucial,” he said.

“Demand for connected 4G/5G laptops and other devices will rise as business justification increases.”