The world stocked up on laptop and desktop computers in 2020 at a level not seen since the iPhone debuted in 2007, and manufacturers still are months away from fulfilling outstanding orders, hardware industry executives and analysts said.
Remote learning and working has upturned the computer market during the coronavirus pandemic, zapping sales of smartphones while boosting interest in bigger devices, which had become afterthoughts to iPhones and Androids over the last decade.
“The whole supply chain has been strained like never before,” said Gregg Prendergast, Pan-America president at hardware maker Acer Inc.
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Annual global shipments of PCs, the industry’s collective term for laptops and desktops, topped out at about 300 million in 2008 and recently were sinking toward 250 million. Few expected a resurgence.
But some analysts now expect 2020 will close at about 300 million shipments, up roughly 15% from a year ago. Tablets are experiencing even faster growth.
By the end of 2021, installed PCs and tablets will reach 1.77 billion, up from 1.64 billion in 2019, according to research company Canalys. The virus pressed families into expanding from one PC for the house to one for each student, video gamer or homebound worker.
To meet the sudden demand, the world’s handful of big PC vendors added suppliers, sped up shipping and teased better models launching next year. It has not been enough.
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Prendergast said Acer has been absorbing the cost to fly laptops directly to its education customers, ditching boats and trains to cut a month off shipping. Yet with assembly lines behind, some customers must wait four months to get shipments.
Components including screens and processors are hard to get even with many factories long past virus shutdowns, analysts said. They added 2021 sales forecasts would be higher if not for the supply issues.