PC shipments expected to inch up this year despite supply shortages

Demand for devices will continue from at-home workers and students, though gains could be hampered by component shortages, says Canalys.

Woman uses PC looking at each other with dog

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The computer industry is on track for another year of growth, but supply issues with be a thorn in its side throughout 2021, according to research firm Canalys.

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In a report published on Thursday, Canalys protected growth of 8% for the global PC market this year on top of the stellar gains made in 2020. Total shipments for 2021 are forecast to hit 496.8 million, up from 458 million last year. These numbers include not only desktops and laptops but Chromebooks and tablets.

PC shipments will be boosted by backlogs on orders from last year as well as ongoing demand from remote workers and students still operating under COVID-19 restrictions.

Much of the growth is likely to be seen in the first half of the year, with shipments forecast to rise 54% in the first quarter and 7% in the second quarter. Though desktops and notebooks will enjoy their own gains, Chromebooks and tablets will be the major beneficiaries with projected growth of 30% and 8%, respectively.

"Chromebooks and tablets were both big winners in 2020, and Canalys forecasts a rosy future for both product categories this year and beyond," Canalys analyst Ishan Dutt said in a press release. "Both are value-for-money alternatives to more expensive Windows devices, catering to segments that are underserved by Wintel."

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Image: Canalys

Though some COVID-19 requirements will ease as the vaccines gain more traction, businesses will still need to limit certain person-to-person interactions. In those situations, tablets will allow workers in the retail, hospitality and travel industries to more easily do their jobs, according to Dutt. Further, Android tablets will support a continued shift to digital education.

There is one hiccup in the works—component shortages. Canalys expects supply limitations to impede growth in PC shipments throughout the year. Availability of graphic displays, GPUs, chips and other components will face constraints for most of 2021 and on into 2022, limiting the number of PC orders that can be filled. Other factors may also keep a lid on shipments.

"Competition for components from the automotive, smart manufacturing and smart IoT industries will also put pressure on PC vendors, which will see their prioritization fall," Canalys research director Rushabh Doshi said in a press release. "Logistics and transportation are also a limiting factor in meeting demand, with vendors turning to more expensive air freight to help cut delivery times. If the industry can overcome these persistent issues, we could see higher growth levels."

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