With the corona pandemic, home office and teaching came at home – and an unexpected comeback of the home computer. But that didn’t come out of nowhere.
Last spring, millions of people were suddenly at home. And found that the old PC and smartphone were not enough for serious learning or working in your own four walls. The result: a real boom in laptop purchases. But there is more to it than just necessity.
“If you didn’t even have a laptop at all, you naturally need one first, for example for school,” explains Alex Cho, who heads the PC division of the computer giant HP. Acers believes that it wasn’t as easy as it used to be Europe boss Emmanuel Fromont: “What was the old computer used for? A little surfing, an e-mail, that’s it. It didn’t matter if the webcam was bad or the computer took two minutes to start. Now it was suddenly no longer acceptable. ”
Between panic and enthusiasm
But even if there was a sufficiently fit computer in the house, many families suddenly faced a problem: one device was suddenly no longer enough. “In the past, every household had a PC for everyone, but with the smartphone everyone had their own device,” explains Fromont. “With the pandemic, however, that was no longer enough. One laptop per household is now one per person.” Sales soared. Compared to 2019, HP sold 17.1 percent more laptops worldwide, Forbes reported. Asus reported a growth of 21.4 percent, with Acer it was a whopping 23.6 percent more than in the previous year.
“Of course there was also a kind of panic buying – people had to get what they needed quickly,” explains Formont. But he believes the trend will not stop once the pandemic ends. “It goes beyond that: people have rediscovered the PC for themselves. That is the more exciting and important development for us.”
This is also supported by the numbers. After Apple opened the tablet market with the first iPad in 2010, laptop purchases continued to decline under pressure from the new device category. Since 2017 there has been a slow turnaround. Until last year purchases exploded. This year, too, they are likely to increase significantly, and then to remain at a similar level until 2025, according to forecasts by “Statista”.
Characterized by the smartphone
The influence of tablets and smartphones has changed the market, explains HP manager Cho. “Much has shifted from mere data sheets to what customers really need, what user experience they want,” he believes. The development of devices has changed accordingly. “Today we can understand much better how people use the devices, what factors are bothering them. We put a lot of time and effort into developing our keyboards. ”
While computers used to be about technical data, the focus has shifted: people want to see the qualities they are used to from tablets and smartphones on their PCs. “You suddenly want a better camera, a better display that you really want to spend eight hours a day on,” observes Fromont.
The camera as the new star
This shift has been observed for several years, but the pandemic has accelerated it considerably, the manufacturers agree. In some cases, however, the forced move to the home office has awakened new needs. “Hardly anyone had previously used their computer to make serious video calls. That only happened via Facetime or Whatsapp on the phone. It was an absolute niche on the computer,” said the Acer manager.
That was also observed at HP. “Today users have different demands, we pay more attention to what I call the eyes, ears and mouth of the device,” says Cho the ad must be correct. So we put a lot of energy into making the camera the best it could be. We suppress background noise in the microphones with the help of artificial intelligence and rely on great displays. ”
Away from the junk
Another change is people’s awareness of the value of computers. This trend also began long before the pandemic. “But there was definitely another acceleration,” believes Fromont. “People today see computers more as an investment: I really want the cheap model that I will have to replace again soon. Or do I spend a few hundred euros more and treat myself to a beautiful device that can then be with me for five or six years. ”
This development is relatively new. If you look at the laptop market in recent years, the premium segment – with the exception of Apple devices – mainly comprised business and gaming notebooks. That has clearly changed, said Fromont. “If you look at the GRP figures for the past year, the average purchase price in Europe has increased by almost 100 euros.” In his opinion, the current shortage of chips on the market only plays a minor role. “There is clearly a greater willingness to spend more money.”
With the Macbook Air, Apple had already shown in 2008 that notebooks don’t have to be clunky and ugly. After the other manufacturers tried for a long time to copy the success, they have long since broken away from the model and are trying out their own new form factors. One example are computers whose display can be removed as a tablet, or models that push what is happening on the screen into the foreground by folding the keyboard behind the display. “Some want to walk back and forth with the devices more, write on them,” explains Cho, explaining the findings from the usage observations.
This also changes the way manufacturers approach the question of how they design the computer. “At the beginning we wanted to know: How do people really use the computers. And we sent people out to simply take photos of people who were using a laptop,” says Cho. “That was incredibly valuable. We could see how people really deal with it – and then work with it. This then resulted in a dedicated user experience team within the design team. ”
“The youth want touch”
But not every new idea works. “Some form factors are turning out to be less successful than we expected,” explains Fromont. “One example is detachable displays that can then be used as tablets. The demand for it is not particularly great, “he explains. A role here is likely to play a role in the fact that Microsoft occupied and shaped the form factor very early with its Surface series – and customers who are looking for such a device resort to a Surface.
In general, however, the hybrid devices conquered their place, says Fromont. “Though maybe not as fast as everyone thought. Maybe the user experience isn’t exactly what one would hope for.” But that could change at any time with changes to Windows. “The young generation wants touch,” he is convinced.
In general, customers today expect the devices to adapt more to their needs and tastes, Cho believes. “The laptop can – not only for private customers, but also for company devices – become a reflection of the person who uses it”, he is convinced. “Personalization, materials, colors and so on also play a role.” HP has been using experimental materials more often in recent years, wrapping notebooks like the Specter Folio in leather (you can find a review of the device here). The fact that the devices are offered in several color options, instead of always in the same boring black or silver, has also become normal with several manufacturers. “This way of thinking is a kind of muscle that we had to develop first,” explains Cho.
“We have notebook designers who take a close look: What are the next trend colors, where are the aesthetics headed,” confirms Fromont. “Technology as an accessory is definitely becoming more and more important. A notebook is certainly the extreme example. But this can be clearly observed with smartphones and so on. We even have some products that I would rather call technology jewelry but admittedly more towards the Asian market, “he laughs. “A lot happens there. One thing is ultimately clear: the one PC that fits all usage requirements – there is no longer one.”