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Gartner forecast: 2020 to see 0.9% bump in global device shipments thanks to 5G, then 2 more years of decline

The analysts at Gartner have published their latest global device forecast, and while 2020 looks like it may be partly sunny, get ready for more showers and poor weather ahead. Gartner predicts that a bump from new 5G technology will lead to total shipments of 2.16 billion units — devices that include PCs, mobile handsets, watches, and all sizes of computing devices in between — working out to a rise of 0.9% compared to 2019.
That’s a modest reversal after what was a rough year for hardware makers who battled with multiple headwinds that included — for mobile handsets — a general slowdown in renewal cycles and high saturation of device ownership in key markets; and — in PCs — the wider trend of people simply buying fewer of these bigger machines as their smartphones get smarter (and bigger).
As a point of comparison, last year Gartner revised its 2019 numbers at least three times, starting from “flat shipments” and ending at nearly four percent decline. In the end, 2019 saw shipments of 2.15 billion units — the lowest number since 2010.
“2020 will witness a slight market recovery,” writes Ranjit Atwal, research senior director at Gartner. “Increased availability of 5G handsets will boost mobile phone replacements, which will lead global device shipments to return to growth in 2020.”
(Shipments, we should note, do not directly equal sales, but they are used as a marker of how many devices are ordered in the channel for future sales. Shipments precede sales figures: overestimating results in oversupply and overall slowdown.)
The idea that 5G will drive more device sales, however, is still up for debate. Some have argued that while carriers are going hell for leather in their promotion of 5G, the idea of special 5G apps and services that will spur adoption of those devices is not as apparent, and that’s leading to it being more of an abstract concept, and not one that is leading the charge when it comes to apps and services.


In 6 years of hearing pitches in Silicon Valley, I heard '5G' maybe once. That's not from ignorance – the utility network layer is not very important to innovation at the top of the stack.
— Benedict Evans (@benedictevans) January 20, 2020
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