The News: When it comes to laptop sales vs. desktop sales, one has climbed and the other dropped. The data — laptop sales are expected to climb while desktop PC sales are expected to drop by 2025. While the global pandemic fueled the demand for PCs, the choice between laptops and desktop PCs has been significantly different. According to new data from Finaria, the laptop market segment is expected to hit almost $150 billion in global revenue by 2025 while desktop PC sales are expected to drop by $54 billion during the same period. Read the full report from Finaria here.
Laptop Sales vs. Desktop PC Sales, One Climbs, the Other Drops — What’s Ahead?
Analyst Take: It’s no secret that mobile is the new normal when it comes to both work and home life. Users want and need to be able to access their computers wherever they are — be it the kitchen table or the office — and that means devices that are easy to pack or carry. In that sense, the datapoints in the Finaria report is not surprising. Laptop sales are climbing, and expected to continue in that vein, while desktop PC sales drop. But that’s not really news. Even before the pandemic, the laptop market segment was on a steady upward trajectory in revenue, growing from $132 billion in 2018 to $140 billion in 2020 according to Statista. The same report showed steady growth in shipments of laptops and tablets over PCs during the same time period which clearly indicates a larger overall shift and preference toward smaller, more mobile computing devices.
Not all Global Markets Are Created Equal
When it comes to laptop sales vs. desktop PC sales, the United States is the leading laptop marketplace and is expected to generate $37 billion of the global revenue by 2025. The Chinese market, the second largest in the world, is expected to reach $14 billion by 2025. The desktop PC market is where this gets interesting. While there has been a steady global decline for the last few years, 2020 — due mostly to the pandemic — saw a growth in sales, but this is predicted to be short-lived. However, when we look at the individual markets, China is expected to see a three percent growth in desktop PC sales in the next four years, while the US market is expected to witness a 12 percent drop. While the push to remote work coupled with the increase in better performing laptops and other mobile devices could very well be the reason for the expected drop in the US, it is interesting to see the opposite happen in China.
Laptops Expected to Peak in 2021—Then What?
An IDC survey showed global shipments of laptops bumped 26% during the COVID-19 pandemic to 218 million in 2020. The figure is expected to grow slightly to 225 million this year. From there, experts say the market will cool slightly, which begs the question: then what? Will folks continue to buy the next new laptop, or will another smaller, cooler mobile remote computing device take over? My guess is, eventually, the latter. As I watch my teenagers use their Dell Latitude 2-in-1 laptops, and my husband use his Microsoft Surface Pro 7, I am confident that combination laptops/tablets will continue to be the preferred computing method for at least the next five years.
Is It Time for PCs to Kick the Bucket?
At some point, I believe we will need to ask the question: have desktop PCs become extinct? I think the answer is no, with a caveat. As I previously mentioned, desktop PC shipments have been dropping steadily for 10 years (from 157 million shipped worldwide in 2010 to just 79 million in 2020), and the Finaria report emphasizes their future decline. As the traditional workplace will likely shift to some combination of hybrid, including both working from a physical office and working from home, it’s likely that desktop PCs will continue to lose traction in the marketplace. Computer manufacturers are taking note of this trend too, putting more powerful chips into laptop devices to meet customer expectations. And as smaller gadgets like tablets and phones become just as powerful as computers, I would not be surprised if laptops eventually take a backseat to these other devices, as well. That’s not a bad thing. Smaller devices mean less electronic waste and disposal, and of course, greater mobility. And the demand for mobility is not going away anytime soon.
On the flip side, I’ll share my own personal experience. For the better part of a decade, I was all laptop all the time. Often multiple laptops at the same time, but all laptop. Then I started working from the desktop PC that had been gathering dust in my office and realized I far preferred the work experience on my gigantic monitor rather than on a laptop screen. Today, I find myself thinking about the task at hand and whether I want to tackle it while remote, on my laptop, or wait until I’m in my office (conveniently located in my home) on my beautiful, gigantic desktop PC. In many — maybe even most — instances, the desktop wins out.
There are also the many folks who need two, and sometimes even three, screens on which to do their work and prefer desktop PCs. There are also gamers, for whom size (and processing power) very much matter. And as to why the Chinese market is seeing moderate growth in desktop PC sales while the US is experiencing a drop? I’m guessing that’s due in part to the Chinese e-sports market, which is the best-performing segmented market in China. Although to be fair, manufacturers of laptops are laser focused on wooing gamer audiences with many cutting-edge innovations in terms of GPUs, high speed processors, and display resolutions. Time will tell whether they’re successful on that front.
So, while yes, laptops and smaller devices are attractive to many, and while I do expect desktop PC sales to continue to drop over time, I believe there will always be a part of the market that needs and/or prefers working on a desktop PC (or several), gaming on a desktop PC, or having Zoom meetings on desktop PCs to their heart’s delight. As always, it all revolves around what a device is used for, and what the best user experience is served up. I don’t see desktop PCs kicking the bucket any time soon.
Futurum Research provides industry research and analysis. These columns are for educational purposes only and should not be considered in any way investment advice.
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Shelly Kramer is a Principal Analyst and Founding Partner at Futurum Research. A serial entrepreneur with a technology centric focus, she has worked alongside some of the world’s largest brands to embrace disruption and spur innovation, understand and address the realities of the connected customer, and help navigate the process of digital transformation. She brings 20 years' experience as a brand strategist to her work at Futurum, and has deep experience helping global companies with marketing challenges, GTM strategies, messaging development, and driving strategy and digital transformation for B2B brands across multiple verticals. Shelly's coverage areas include Collaboration/CX/SaaS, platforms, ESG, and Cybersecurity, as well as topics and trends related to the Future of Work, the transformation of the workplace and how people and technology are driving that transformation. A transplanted New Yorker, she has learned to love life in the Midwest, and has firsthand experience that some of the most innovative minds and most successful companies in the world also happen to live in “flyover country.”