With the advent of smartphones that are just as powerful as a laptop came an unexpected consequence for the computing world—consumers were happy to ditch their PC. Over the last decade, PC sales have stagnated dramatically as more people opt for a tablet or simply don’t see the need for anything more than their iPhone.
However, that trend might be starting to change. Multiple market research firms have confirmed that 2019 was the first year that the PC industry saw annual growth since 2011. Shipments of PCs (both laptops and desktops) increased by about 2.7 percent year on year. A large portion of this growth came in the fourth quarter thanks to booming holiday sales.
No matter how its sliced, 2019 was the best year for PCs in a long time. IDC and Gartner, both market research firms, reported positive numbers for the industry. The former reports annual sales growth of 2.7 percent year over year while Gartner reports 0.6 percent growth in the same category.
However, both firms mark the total number of Q4 2019 PC shipments at more than 70 million. That number was led unsurprisingly by the holiday season and some great deals on new devices. Some computer-like devices such as Chromebooks weren’t counted while other premium portables like Microsoft’s Surface lineup were. For the fourth quarter, IDC reports a market growth of 4.8 percent over the previous year while Gartner reports a growth of 2.3 percent.
The market’s increase in 2019 is the first for the PC world in almost a decade. In that year it grew by 1.7 percent. In the years since numbers have either remained stagnant or declined slightly.
False Positive or True Turnaround?
Although the 2010s were great for technology as a whole, they weren’t kind to the PC industry. Alongside the problem of smartphones taking over, sales were also hurt by a lack of significant innovation. Although laptops continue to get thinner and sleeker, few truly revolutionized the industry.
Of course, certain models like the 2015 MacBook Pro were smash hits. It can thank features like a Retina display, lightning-fast processors, and Thunderbolt ports for its success. Now, however, almost every mid-range laptop has an HD display and has plenty of different connectivity options. Most non-gaming laptops perform almost identically (in their respective price ranges). Meanwhile, desktop PCs are falling by the wayside.
So, what sparked people to buy new PCs in 2019? Both IDC and Gartner suggest that businesses were actually behind the growth as they work to transition older Windows 7 devices to newer ones that better support Windows 10. Considering that businesses led the way, it’s no surprise that Lenovo, HP, and Dell secured the top three spots for the most shipments.
While the upgrade movement did help make 2019 a strong year for the PC industry, it might be a temporary respite. Research firms are currently split on whether the growth will carry on throughout 2020 or slow down once again as businesses finish refreshing their technology.
That trend will certainly be an important one to watch moving forward. Without a major operating system refresh on the table in the coming years, PC manufacturers will need to wow businesses and consumers with impressive new features to continue driving sales.