Smartphone shipments may have tanked due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, but it looks like PC makers have seen an uptick.

IDC, Gartner, and Canalys all released reports this week that shows PC shipments were up during the second quarter of 2020 when compared with the same period a year ago.

HP EliteBook 840 G7
HP EliteBook 840 G7

Each of the research firms has a different methodology for deciding what exactly constitutes a PC. IDC and Canalys count Chromebooks, but not tablets (even if they’re 2-in-1 Windows devices like the Microsoft Surface Pro). Gartner counts tablets, but not Chromebooks.

But all three groups agree that remote working and learning drove the growth in PC shipments between April and June. Millions of students and workers have found themselves stuck at home and many have been looking to acquire or upgrade tools that let them work and study without leaving the house.

Canalys and IDC also agree that strong notebook shipments have played a big part in the latest trends.

It’s unclear how long these trends will last. At least part of the surge is probably due to pent up demand. PC shipments were down in the first quarter of 2020 because manufacturers in China were shut down for much of that period, which meant that there wasn’t enough supply to meet demand.

So it’s possible that at some point most workers and students who are looking for PCs to use at home will have their needs met. It’s also possible that as countries around the world start to end their lockdowns and people return to something resembling normal work patterns, the demand could fade. But it could be months or years before that happens… if it ever does. There’s been plenty of digital ink spilled discussing what “normal” will look like after this pandemic has been dealt with.

Still, even if the rise in PC shipments is just a weird blip, it’s an interesting one that reverses a trend we’ve seen in recent years. Smartphone shipments have consistently trended upward, while PC shipments have been falling. That makes sense since smartphones can do many of the things people used to rely on computers for… and phones also tend to have shorter lifespans than PCs, so you replace them with newer models more frequently.

It’ll be interesting to see whether new trends emerge in the next few quarters… or if PC and phone shipments revert to their pre-pandemic paths.

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  1. I’m pretty sure PCs don’t exist anymore, given that their death has been predicted twice a year for at least the last 15 years. But it makes me sad that so many people are relying on smartphones for things they used to use PCs for. Smartphones are a great step up if you didn’t have access to the internet before, but a major step down if you’re coming from a PC. I’m hoping the uptick continues, but I’m afraid that capitalism will want to get back to throwaway computing as soon as possible.