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Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, there was already a shortage of components for PCs that became further exacerbated as key manufacturing facilities in China were forced to temporarily shut down. Flash forward a year later and IT manufacturing is still recovering. At the start of the online CES 2021 conference, availability of desktop and laptops is still a significant issue.

Less clear is what the demand levels for PCs will be in 2021 now that a COVID-19 vaccine is starting to be distributed. Over the course of the pandemic many organizations managed to find a way to acquire mobile computing devices that enabled employees to work more effectively from home. In many cases, employees also took it upon themselves to acquire various classes of mobile computing devices either online or by taking a trip to their local Big Box retailer.

Many organizations, however, might decide to postpone additional PC upgrades while they wait for the overall economy to recover. Others may decide that given the fact that most employees will be working from home more often for the foreseeable future, the time has come to standardize on a set of mobile computing platforms that would be easier to centrally secure and manage.

Lenovo adds 5G to PCs

Lenovo, among other PC manufacturers, is betting heavily on the latter scenario. At the CES conference, the company has launched a raft of endpoint devices primarily aimed at consumers. However, many of the capabilities in those devices will soon find their way into the commercial endpoints that channel partners typically resell to corporations.

For example, some of the latest laptops from Lenovo feature built-in support for 5G wireless networking. Rather than tethering laptops to 5G services access over a smartphone, end users will be able to directly access those services via their laptops. As 5G services become more widely available in 2021, many organizations will opt for devices that have built-in 5G capabilities that should be more secure than home WiFi networks or what might be freely available at the local café.

In fact, collaboration applications that embed video that is accessed via wireless networking services will be a major driver of demand for next-generation endpoints, predicts Rob Cato, vice president for the North America channel for the intelligent devices group at Lenovo.

“Collaboration for us is going to be really important,” says Cato. “Endpoints are part of the overall solution.”

Going into 2021 Cato says it will also be more important for partners to align with PC vendors that control their own manufacturing lines versus relying on third-party companies to manufacture their PCs. There may not be the same level of panic buying that occurred in 2020, but Cato says supply chain issues given expected demand are likely to continue to be a factor for all manufacturers well into 2021.

Modern apps require modern hardware

Most channel partners today generally view PCs and other types of endpoints as a means to a larger end. Regardless of the type of application, the end user experience is also going to be superior when running on the latest generation of hardware. Even in the age of the cloud, trying to delight a customer by running a new application on legacy PC gear is always going to adversely impact overall customer satisfaction.

No one can say for sure how the rise of tablet devices might once again erode PC sales once the pandemic subsides. For now, however, channel partners should assume there will still be plenty of pent-up demand for the latest and greatest PC devices now that the way end users employ those devices has fundamentally changed forever.