The PC staged a Covid-inspired comeback in 2020, with the industry recording its best growth figures in a decade, and there may be more to come as manufacturers position their products for pandemic living in 2021.

The Gartner research firm has just reported worldwide PC shipments grew to 79.4m units in the fourth quarter, up 10.7 per cent on a year earlier, while the 4.8 per cent growth to 275m units in 2020 was the highest since 2010.

Figures from two other research firms, which classify PCs slightly differently, also suggest there is plenty of life left in the personal computer. IDC recorded 303m units shipped for 13.1 per cent growth in 2020, while Canalys said shipments grew 11 per cent to reach 297m units.

Clearly, the numbers could have been higher, with supply unable to meet demand. Covid-19-related disruption to supply chains meant that “not only were PC makers and [Original Device Manufacturers] dealing with component and production capacity shortages, but logistics remained an issue” in the fourth quarter, said IDC.

Notebooks accounted for a record 79 per cent of shipments, said Canalys, as companies equipped their staff to work from home. The market also widened, said IDC, noting: “We continue to see gaming PCs and monitor sales at all-time highs and Chrome-based devices are expanding beyond education into the consumer market.”

“Prior to 2020, consumers had been shifting to a phone-first focus, yet the pandemic reversed this trend,” said Gartner. “PCs have resurfaced as an essential device.” That momentum may continue if online education, grocery shopping online and remote working trends continue beyond coronavirus, it added.

Hardware announcements around the CES 2021 show this week indicate the big brands are doubling down on current trends. Examples: HP’s ENVY 14 laptop features Enhanced Lighting, a selfie light that improves the user’s appearance in video calls; Dell launched three video conferencing monitors with a dedicated button for launching Microsoft Teams, while Lenovo aimed at remote workers smart glasses that can project your Windows desktop in mid-air (see Tech Tools below). Lenovo (24.9 per cent market share), HP (21.2 per cent) and Dell (16.4) per cent remained the top vendors in 2020, according to Gartner.

1. Big Tech under fire over clampdownThe social network Parler, popular with the far right in the US, has sued Amazon after it was forced offline by the withdrawal of web hosting services. Our analysis says moves by Twitter, Facebook and others to ban President Trump following the assault on Capitol Hill have given ammunition to critics on both sides of the political aisle who want stricter regulations for social media platforms. Lex says pre-emptive self-regulation may not be enough for Big Tech to avoid reform, while the FT editorial board says had the platforms acted earlier to remove offending presidential posts selectively, the need for tougher actions might have been averted. Our media team reports some conservative media groups are now backing away from the theory that Joe Biden only won the election due to mass voter fraud.

2. Japan’s 5G battle intensifies A former employee of SoftBank’s mobile unit has been arrested on suspicion of sharing confidential information about its 4G and 5G base station technology when he joined Rakuten Mobile, which has become Japan’s fourth wireless carrier. Lex says the industry mood is sour after months of ferocious competition and the relentless cost pressures created by rolling out 5G.

Chart shows Japan mobile market share by number of subscriptions

3. Chinese delivery driver’s fiery protestA driver, who had worked for Alibaba’s food delivery platform, has set himself on fire in protest over unpaid wages, in the latest incident to highlight allegations of mistreatment of workers in China’s booming takeaway sector. Liu Jin suffered third-degree burns to 80 per cent of his body.

4. Pandemic tech boom is reshaping our citiesIf the legacy of dotcom mania was its digital infrastructure, today’s pandemic-driven ecommerce boom is creating a new physical infrastructure in our cities, building logistics networks that will last for decades, writes Tim Bradshaw.

5. Autotech start-ups gain huge valuationsAutomotive tech start-ups catapulted on to the US stock market via blank cheque vehicles known as Spacs have together amassed a market capitalisation of approaching $60bn, even as several are yet to book a single dollar of revenue or make a product. The FT editorial board says the optimism contained in forecasts that global electric vehicle sales will grow 50 per cent or more this year appears well-founded.

Bubble timeline charts showing auto tech companies listed through Spacs boast significant market caps even with little current revenues

Lenovo’s new smart glasses launched at CES 2021 allow 3D visualisation and augmented reality experiences. Engadget says the ThinkReality A3 smart specs are an advance on the first ThinkReality model, the A6, which looked like a typical mixed reality headset, but they still need to be connected to a PC or phone to work. The A3 can show up to five virtual 1080p displays and has an 8-megapixel camera that can provide 1080p video, as well as dual fish-eye cameras for room-scale tracking. No pricing has been announced, but the product is aimed at the enterprise and should be available mid-year.