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Hewlett-Packard is an American technology company that is best known for printers and personal computers. It is number one in both markets.

Traditional PC sales boom as market resets

After a decade of falling sales, the Covid pandemic has seen traditional PC sales reach the highest level in that time.

IDC reports total PC shipments reached 349 million in 2021. That’s up almost 15 percent on shipments in 2020. Reports from rival analyst companies Gartner and Canalys confirm double digit sales growth for the year.

It is the highest demand for traditional PCs since 2012.

The Wall Street Journal reports that even the desktop computer is making a comeback.

People who work from home want bigger screens and more powerful systems.

Apple silicon project pays off

Apple had a strong year thanks to pent-up demand for new M1 MacBooks. Both the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro models flew out the door.

In the quarter the updated iMac went on sale, orders jumped 23 percent.

The company’s market share hit 8.2 percent, the highest in a long time.

Dell and Asus both had strong years relative to the broader market. Dell saw shipments grow almost 9 percent while Asus was up 12.5 percent. Market leaders Lenovo and HP slipped a fraction as rivals caught up.

Return to form for traditional PC

Jitesh Ubrani, research manager for IDC’s Mobile and Consumer Device Trackers says: “2021 has truly been a return to form for the PC. Consumer need for PCs in emerging markets and global commercial demand remained strong during the quarter with supply being a gating factor.

“While consumer and educational demand has tapered in some developed markets, we continue to believe the overall PC market has reset at a much higher level than before the pandemic.”

This reset has brought a fresh set of problems for the industry: dealing with the logistic challenge of meeting demand while there are bottlenecks and supply shortages. Gartner saw this as a hiccup in the third quarter.

Could have been better

IDC’s Tom Mainelli says the market could have been even larger in 2021 without those issues.

He says: “We closed the year with many buyers still waiting for their PC orders to ship. As we move through the first half of the year, we expect supply to remain constrained, especially … the commercial segment where demand is the most robust.”

IDC – Growth Streak for Traditional PCs Continues During Holiday Quarter of 2021

Printer sales down 20 percent on supply chain woes

IDC reports manufacturing constraints and logistical issues are behind a 20.4 percent drop in printer sales in the third quarter of 2021.

Strictly speaking IDC was reporting on the drop in sales of ‘hardcopy peripherals’. The category covers inkjets, lasers, copiers and multi-function devices.

Researchers says the printer brands struggled to fulfil orders.

These weren’t the only problems. IDC says the value of shipments dropped 11 percent over the quarter.

Canon fared worst

Canon was the biggest loser. It saw a year on year drop of almost 40 percent (39.2 percent). Canon slipped from second place to third place behind HP and Epson.

Things were tough at HP which saw sales fall by a quarter (26.1 percent). The company continues to dominate the sector with a 40 percent market share down from 44 percent a year ago.

Epson and Kyocera did best. Both managed to grow. Epson continued its expansion in the ink tank market, a strategy that has worked for the Japanese company.

Worldwide Hardcopy Peripherals Market, Unit Shipments, Company Share, and Year-Over-Year Growth, Q3 2021 (based on unit shipments)
Company3Q21 Unit Shipments3Q21 Market Share3Q20 Unit Shipments3Q20 Market Share3Q21/3Q20 Growth
1. HP Inc.8,566,57340.9%11,599,53544.1%-26.1%
2. Epson4,185,08920.0%4,148,91515.8%+0.9%
3. Canon Group3,394,47416.2%5,585,49421.2%-39.2%
4. Brother1,858,0158.9%1,933,2497.3%-3.9%
5. Kyocera Group446,8492.1%407,1361.5%+9.8%
Others2,497,19611.9%2,655,73210.1%-6.0%
Total20,948,196100.0%26,330,061100.0%-20.4%
Source: IDC Worldwide Quarterly Hardcopy Peripherals Tracker, November 11, 2021

Gartner: PC shipments flat in third quarter 2021

Gartner says 84.1 million PC were shipped in the third quarter of 2021. That’s up one percent on the same period a year earlier. Which doesn’t sound much, but last year saw the most buoyant PC activity in almost a decade.

There was a shortage of suitable laptop chips during the quarter which acted as a brake on sales. Business desktop PC sales were strong.

Chromebook sales fell 17 percent in the quarter – the biggest drop Chromebooks have seen to date.

“As many schools worldwide reopened, there was no longer an immediate need for PCs and Chromebooks to support at-home education”.

Mikako Kitagawa, Gartner research Director

Gartner now counts Chromebooks in its PC shipments.

Lenovo remains the top selling PC brand. The company’s shipments grew slightly faster than the market at 1.8 percent, but ended a run of five quarters of double digit growth. Lenovo suffered from component shortages.

HP shipments fell 5.8 percent. Poor US demand for Chromebooks was partly behind this. It too faces supply chain issues.

Dell saw strong growth. Gartner puts this down to the company being stronger in business PCs than in consumer models. This was were there was more demand.

Apple grew 7.4 percent. Gartner says the company’s M1 based models have been well received by the market. It says an expected product refresh – which will be announced next week – means some Apple customers put purchases on hold.

Worldwide PC vendor unit shipment estimates for 3Q21 (thousands of units)

Company


3Q21 Shipments


3Q21 Market Share (%)


3Q20 Shipments


3Q20 Market Share (%)


3Q21-3Q20 Growth (%)


Lenovo


19,945


23.7


19,601


23.5


1.8


HP Inc.


17,624


20.9


18,718


22.5


-5.8


Dell


15,242


18.1


12,048


14.5


26.5


Apple


7,222


8.6


6,725


8.1


7.4


Acer Group


6,036


7.2


6,327


7.6


-4.6


ASUS


6,028


7.2


5,714


6.9


5.5


Others


 12,049


14.3


14,153


17.0


-14.9


Total


84,147


100.0


83,286


100.0


1.0


Source: Gartner (October 2021)

Microsoft is now rolling out Windows 11. Gartner says this will have limited impact on business sales as large buyers tend to be conservative with software upgrades. The research company forecasts a weak fourth quarter with demand driven more by replacements than new buyers.

HP works both ends of the PC street

Suddenly after years of decline personal computers are hot again. Sales are up and there are shortages of some models.

It may not last. Indeed the full year could still see an overall decline in sales. Yet for now, the PC has regained relevance.

After playing second fiddle to the phone, the focus is back on the PC. That mainly means laptops.

The move to working from home has seen an explosion in demand for hardware with a decent size screen and a proper keyboard.

It’s not just office workers setting up shop on the kitchen table, it’s also students logging on to remote lessons and many others turning to digital entertainment to fill the hole left when you can’t go out so much.

HP in a good place today

HP is in a good place to exploit the exploding demand. It is, after all, New Zealand’s best selling PC brand by a fair clip. It is the leader in many countries around the world and even where it doesn’t dominate, it is an important player.

Apple’s computer strategy may not be as laser focused today as it has been in recent years, but it focuses on a handful of product lines. Microsoft does something similar with its Surface hardware.

In contrast, HP takes the opposite approach. It throws a lot of ideas against the wall knowing full well that some will stick.

This week’s announcements in the US follow that approach. The company has focused on two distinct, non-mainstream PC sectors. At one extreme it has gone big with new Omen gaming PCs. At the other there are enterprise-focused Chromebooks.

The Omen announcements are grunty machines ideal for people who need lockdown entertainment. There is a large screen 27-inch gaming monitor with 165Hz refresh rate and 1ms response time.

The new Omen computers are built around high performance Intel i9 and AMD Ryzen 9 CPUs. They use Nvidia RTX 2080 or AMD Radeon RX 5700 XT graphics cards. Also in the mix are a fancy new case design, Cooler Master cooling components and HyperX high-speed Dram along with WD Black SSDs.

A good Omen

Gaming PCs have been a success story for HP. They are one of the few PC categories to experience growth and because the products tend to be premium throughout, margins are healthy. With people spending even more time at home, they are likely to continue selling well.

We don’t see them so much in New Zealand, but elsewhere in the world Chromebooks are very popular in education. HP makes plenty of affordable low-end Chromebooks to address this market. Now it is parlaying some of that expertise to meet a corporate need for low-cost cloud-based hardware.

The revived Enterprise 14 G6 Chromebook won’t win any prizes for performance. It doesn’t have to. It is as a solid cloud-based laptop with a 14-inch display. There are more swept up Chromebooks and one model comes in the 2-in-1 format.

There’s also a mobile thin client, which is, in effect, a laptop for people who use a virtual desktop, another trend which is more prevalent overseas than in New Zealand.

Elsewhere HP has a new laser printer for home users. Its sales pitch is that it comes with seven times as much toner as earlier laser printers.

HP Thunderbolt Dock 120W G2 – solid, easy to use

HP’s Thunderbolt Dock 120W G2 is a new twist on the desktop docking station. You can extend the modular dock with a Bang and Olufsen speaker. This optional extra is ideal for handling conference calls.

I tested the HP Thunderbolt Dock G2 with Audio model. It has the optional speaker attached. You can buy a Dock without the speaker for NZ$400.

At the time of writing there wasn’t a New Zealand price for the Audio version. In the US HP adds US$50 to the non-Audio Dock price. So it’s likely the New Zealand version will sell for around NZ$500.

Old school

Docks or docking stations seem old school in 2018. Yet they are enjoying a revival. In part this is because computer makers like HP now standardise on USB-C connectors. They put fewer ports on modern laptops.

Today’s laptops are often ultra-thin. This leaves less room for ports. Some ports are deeper than the edge of many modern laptops. Think of an Ethernet port to get the picture.

This means offloading the connectivity options to a separate device makes sense.

Most people who work from home or in a small business will use Wi-Fi and Bluetooth for connections.

Big company IT departments sometimes prefer Ethernet. It means better connection speeds in busy workplaces. It also can be mean trouble for tech support.

Connectivity

Docks are often the best way to connect a USB-C laptop to Ethernet. Although you could choose a dongle instead. Docks also allow users to add large screen displays, keyboards and mice. Most docks also act as rechargers.

The HP Thunderbolt Dock G2 comes with a hard-wired USB-C cable that connects to a laptop. The cable is about 700 mm long, which is enough if you keep the Dock on your desktop. On the right-hand side is a USB 3.0 port, a headphone jack and a Kensington lock connector.

There are a total of eight more sockets on the rear. One connects the Dock to a power brick. Another is an Ethernet port. There are two more USB-C ports, a Thunderbolt port, a power out port, there are also two Display Ports and a VGA port.

HP has chosen a big, heavy power brick. That’s necessary to supply enough power, but it adds a lot of heft to the Dock set-up. If you need to, with say two large screens, it can draw down 100W of power.

I thought I’d prefer to have the power unit built into the Dock. That would add weight and bulk. Another advantage of separate units is the desktop Dock doesn’t get hot.

You wouldn’t want to lug this from place to place, but then you don’t have to. That’s the point of a Dock.

In practice

The HP Notebook recognised the Dock immediately. When connected, it installed the right drivers and rebooted.

When you connect the HP Thunderbolt Dock to a laptop, I used the HP Elitebook x360, the top lights up to show a row of buttons.

These let you use the speaker for conference calls. It would work fine if you had one of these in a meeting room for a group of people to share.

There’s haptic feedback to let your fingers know when you use the buttons.

I managed to test the speaker with a Skype call. When it connected I had to crank the volume down, it was too loud for my quiet, small home office.

You will need the extra volume in a busy open plan office. The people at the other end could tell I was on a speakerphone. From my point of view, the call sounded clearer than usual and much better than listening on a handset.

HP Thunderbolt Dock 120W G2 verdict

HP’s advertising implies the company optimised the Thunderbolt Dock’s Bang and Olufsen speakers for phone calls. Despite this they do a fine job playing music and handling other audio. There’s plenty of top and bottom to the sound. It helps that the Dock is solid, so no vibrations.

It’s been a while since I last used a docking station. The newer HP design is far easier to use. It is more versatile and offers a lot more functionality for half the price of my earlier dock.

If you make a lot of conference calls and work hands free, it’s a must have. If you want to use a big screen, Ethernet or a full size keyboard it is well worth considering.

Elite Thunderbolt 3 Dock – HP’s port connector

Laptop docks or docking stations were all the rage a decade or so ago. While they come in different shapes and sizes, most add standard desktop PC features to laptops.

Above all, docks add ports so you can connect large displays, network hardware, extra storage and so on while charging your computer.

As the name suggests docks connect your laptop to the hardware. In the past they would include cradles, you would literally dock your laptop into the desktop section.

Thunderbolt and USB-C

Today most docks use less elaborate connectors. The NZ$345 plus GST HP Elite Thunderbolt 3 Dock connects to, say, the HP Elitebook Folio G1 via one of the computer’s two USB-C ports at one end and a combined Thunderbolt and power cable at the other.

The best docks are built for a fast connection, so you don’t need to fiddle with lots of awkward cables when you are in a hurry. In the case of the Elite Thunderbolt 3, that means unplugging a single connector.

Versatile Elite Thunderbolt 3 Dock

Although HP sells the Elite Thunderbolt 3 Dock with its own computers, the dock may work with other computer maker’s hardware if they support Thunderbolt 3.

HP sent the dock for review with the Elitebook Folio G1, but it would be just at home with an HP Spectre.

As you can see from the photo the dock is an elegant two-tone grey oblong measuring 229 by 57 mm. It is 18 mm deep. That means it is small enough to sit under a monitor or in a draw when not in use.

A textured rubber base stops the dock from sliding across your desk. The front has a power button which lights when the dock is working. There are two USB 3.0 ports and an audio jack.

On the back you’ll find the combined Thunderbolt – power sockets. There’s also a Gigabit Ethernet port, a VGA port and a cable lock socket so you can secure the dock. There are two USB 3.0 ports and two DisplayPort along with a USB Type-C port that supports Thunderbolt.

Brick

Instead of including the transformer in the dock, HP uses a separate power brick which has its own power cable.

The cables are long enough to reach a power point a couple of metres away. HP has also included a long enough lead for the brick to stay on the floor, there’s no need for it to sit next to the dock on your desk.

If you use the dock at a single desk, this arrangement is fine. If you hot desk, or move often between desks and have to move everything with you, it could be cumbersome to carry a laptop, dock, brick and power cable. There’s also more to forget.

Light

The good news is the entire ensemble only weighs 650g. The bad news is you going to need more of a laptop bag or briefcase if you need to carry everything around town or even between cities.

HP has left off some of the possible options, there’s no HDMI or DVI. If you need these, you’ll have to find an adaptor.

According to HP the Elite Thunderbolt 3 Dock can support two 4K monitors. We’ve only got one, so tested that working in tandem with the laptop’s built-in UHD display. There were no performance issues to report although the dock gets warm after a while.

Thanks to the arrival of minimalist ultraportable laptops like the HP models, Microsoft Surface Pro and MacBooks desktop docks look set for a comeback.

While Wi-fi and Bluetooth can carry a lot of the connectivity load, cables are still needed for high-definition video. Today’s lighted laptops have the bare minimum number of ports, that’s fine for some users, but many prefer more physical network or storage connections.

HP’s Elite Thunderbolt 3 Dock is an elegant and straightforward way of delivering the extra ports. It looks good and doesn’t get in the way.