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Bill Bennett

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The PC: Reports of its death an exaggeration

It is more than a decade since people started telling us we are in the post-PC era. I’m guilty1. From memory the idea took off soon after crowds first queued to buy the original Apple iPhone.

There is something in the idea. PC sales peaked in 2011 at 365 million. In big picture terms it has been downhill ever since. Last year people bought 260 million PCs. In comparison phone hit 1.5 billion sales. That’s roughly six new phones for every computer2 .

Yet, to steal Mark Twain’s joke, reports of the PCs’ death are an exaggeration.

Who you gonna call?

Nothing illustrates this better than the response to the Covid–19 pandemic. Phone sales dropped when companies, schools and whole communities moved into lockdown.

Meanwhile PC sales are up 11.2 percent year-on-year. That’s according to IDC’s preliminary PC sales numbers for the second quarter of 2020.

All the big brands saw strong growth of notebooks and desktops. Apple, Acer and HP all saw double-digit year-on-year growth. Apple is up 36 percent on the year earlier. HP remains in the top slot with 17.7 percent growth. Dell was weakest with only a 3.6 percent increase.

Reports say HP took a punt early on in the quarter and increased its notebook orders with its suppliers. The bet paid off.

Notebooks notable

Notebooks were the biggest winners. Channels around the world reported selling out of many models. It didn’t help that China, where most computers are made, was in lockdown during the period and the logistics firms moving hardware around the world had reduced capacity.

The main driver was the shift away from offices to working from home. Schools sending students home to continue learning online was another major cause. Both of these were obvious to anyone watching events. Less obvious was the number of people buying home computers to help relive lock-down boredom.

An untold story of the quarter was the shift from retail computer sales to online stores. Customers couldn’t shop, but they could click online. It’s possible this change may stick as the world moves on from lockdowns. This may have wider implications.

Relevance

The PC may not be dead. Yet despite the new relevance, sales are still nowhere near the peak. And most analysts see the recent strong result as a one-off. The long slow decline may, or may not, have bottomed out, but no-one sees long term recovery.

Indeed, a worldwide recession is likely to have an impact on future PC sales. Mind you, the impact could be worse for phone sales.

Still, the key point here is that when the going got tough, people didn’t reach for phones, they reached for PCs. That should restore some confidence to the market.


  1. A previous, long dead blog of mine used the term post-PC an August 2011 entry IBM CTO: PC dead, we bailed long ago. ↩︎
  2. Tablets change things a bit, but you get the picture here ↩︎

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