Desktop sales rebound as pandemic work evolves

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The desktop computer is making a comeback.

Bulky machines have long lost their cachet, as sleeker, trendier and more mobile devices such as laptops and smartphones have dominated the gadget market. At first, the pandemic seemed likely to extend this trend, as people fled offices and schools and rushed to buy laptops for their temporary “remote” circumstances. Desktop PC sales plummeted.

This year, however, demand for desktops has jumped as some employees returned to the office and others cemented their work-from-home setups. Global desktop shipments are expected to increase by about 7% this year after falling sharply in the first year of the pandemic, according to International Data Corp. IT companies such as Dell Technologies Inc.

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and HP Inc.

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say they saw a slight increase in global shipments, which had declined in previous years.

“For a lot of these people working from home, they might have been fine with a laptop before. But they really want something that’s a big screen, so they’re really productive, ”said Alex Cho, president of personal systems at HP. “They want a great keyboard and a mouse, a dual screen. “

Demand for laptops also remained high, although the annual growth in shipments reported by IDC this year is expected to slow to 15% from the 29% rise in the pandemic’s first year.

The desktop PC is now in its fifth decade of existence. Sales of laptops topped desktops for the first time in 2009, per IDC. The rise of smartphones around the same time put a computer in every pocket, and tablets like Apple. Inc.

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The iPad has also been widely adopted. The pandemic seemed to mark the latest trend to reduce the popularity of desktop computers.

But the office is hard to kill. Typically, it offers higher computing speed, more memory, a larger screen, and a better camera than similarly priced laptops, according to industry executives. “It offers excellent value for money. It offers better performance. These things still matter and they will continue to matter, ”said Jitesh Ubrani, research director for IDC’s Worldwide Mobile Device Trackers.

Such attributes explain why some employees who initially started working remotely with laptops switched to desktops after finding they weren’t getting adequate performance from their portable devices, executives said. ‘industry.

“There have been a lot of complaints from [the laptop] not having enough power, about the lack of the old-fashioned keyboard, ”said James Rocker, managing director of Nerds That Care, an IT services company based in Long Island, NY.

Many of his legal and financial clients, he said, needed “a little more power, a little more performance than a laptop can actually deliver.” His company had to install multiple desktops in people’s homes, he said.

Intelligence Corp.

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CEO Pat Gelsinger is among those who made the change. He said he had two laptops and replaced one with a desktop during the pandemic. “I am primarily at my home office,” Mr. Gelsinger said. “There are a lot of use cases where the desktop is just a better device. Intel, which sells chips for all kinds of personal computers, sees this type of behavior playing out more broadly, he said.

Dell, which ranks No.2 in desktop computer shipments this year, said it has seen particularly strong demand for desktops from business customers as companies recall employees to their workplaces and ordered new computers from them. The company’s desktop computer shipments increased 41% in the second quarter, compared to the period last year, and nearly 18% in the most recent quarter, according to IDC data.

Danielian Associates, an architectural firm based in Southern California, hired five people during the pandemic and brought its staff of around 40 back to the office in May, President John Danielian said. The company ordered about half a dozen desktops this year to run power-hungry graphics programs, he said. “Trying to get that kind of power out of the laptop just doesn’t make sense,” Mr. Danielian said.

Sales of Apple desktop computers have also jumped this year. In April, the company began taking orders for its new iMac desktop computer. It’s equipped with a chip that enables better performance, a 24-inch display, and what the company calls the best camera and sound system in an iMac yet.

In the quarter the new iMac went on sale, Apple desktop shipments rose about 23%, according to IDC data, and have grown by more than 60% over the years. next three months. Apple said people working from home want bigger screens and maximum power.

In a world filled with smartphones, tablets and laptops, the new iMac, powered by Apple’s M1 chip, proves that desktops still have a future. Joanna Stern of the WSJ looked to the past, the original iMac G3, to understand Apple’s fun and colorful desktop strategy for 2021. Photo illustration: Kenny Wassus for The Wall Street Journal

Lenovo Group Ltd.

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shipped the most desktops in the world this year, according to IDC data. Pandemic demands have prompted the company to focus on improving audio quality and noise suppression on desktops, said Sanjeev Menon, general manager of Lenovo office operations.

The global chip shortage has also boosted desktop computer shipments this year, IDC’s Ubrani said. Some laptops are out of stock and computer makers have said they are prioritizing shipping more expensive and more lucrative computers, making desktops an attractive and cheaper alternative.

The resurgence of the office should have its limits. IDC predicts that global desktop PC shipments will drop 10% by 2025 and are not expected to return to pre-pandemic levels. Even so, the desktop shouldn’t disappear completely.

“There will be desktops forever,” Intel’s Mr. Gelsinger said.

Write to Meghan Bobrowsky at Meghan.Bobrowsky@wsj.com

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