Since March 2020, stay-at-home orders due to the COVID-19 pandemic caused workers that would normally be in offices around the world to be in their homes, creating a makeshift office or clearing space for a workplace.
While COVID-19 impacted many technology markets negatively, there are several markets that experienced unparalleled growth during the pandemic, primarily due to the increase in workers staying at home, according to Stephen Baker, vice president and industry analyst at NPD Group, during Techfluence, a virtual pre-CES 2021 briefing.
5 technological winners
NPD identified five technological winners during the pandemic including do-it-yourself PC computers, PC monitors, gaming components, PC headsets and networking equipment.
Do-it-yourself computer builds grew substantially during the pandemic, which included the sales of processors, motherboards, memory, desktop PC cases and more. What was traditionally a hobby for some, became more of a necessity as workers were asked to work from home, Baker said. While some of this growth was due to the introduction of new graphics cards, the uptick in growth of PC building began long before the graphics cards were introduced, he added.
PC monitors were the most consistent growth category during the pandemic as corporations and home workers ordered new monitors for laptop docking stations or new desktops.
Meanwhile, gaming hardware revenue increased $1 billion in 2020, according to NPD data. PC gaming was a big winner as it became a way to provide entertainment to families once lockdown orders did not allow traditional entertainment options to be viable. Additionally, gaming accessories — keyboards, mice, gaming chairs, joysticks — also had a successful 2020. Gaming microphones and keyboards were up 50% and non-gaming microphones and keyboards were up about 25%.
Non-gaming headset growth has doubled in the last nine months as workers looked to get better quality listening devices for Zoom calls and listening to music while working.
Finally, networking equipment — such as modems, gateways, routers and access points — all showed substantial double digit increases over 2019. Webcams have also seen impressive growth, but this growth came from institutions outside of traditional consumer use and into educational markets and businesses.
“Infrastructure is sexy again,” Baker said. “We were able to ignore our routers for a long time and those days are over and we need to give a little love to our routers going forward.”
3 surprising growth markets
Growth in other markets was also unexpected in 2020. The first technology that saw a bit of resurgence was that of digital picture frames. Baker said that digital picture frames have had ups and downs over the years and with the lockdown in place, more consumers started buying digital picture frames again maybe as a gift for family members that could not be visited due to COVID-19.
Another market that is not so much surprising as it is just remarkable in growth — cleaning accessories. Wipes for monitors and compressed aired for cleaning keyboards or desks resulted in $90 million in revenue, which NPD said is the highest revenue ever for the market.
Finally, networking cables saw a significant comeback in 2020, reaching its highest growth period since 2013.
“We all talk about going wireless…but the world needs wires and we saw the industry recognize that in 2020,” Baker said.
Meanwhile, three markets underperformed in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to NPD data.
The smart home became a lower priority in 2020 compared to previous years. Prior to 2020, smart home devices were growing faster than the overall market, but experienced a significant slowdown in 2020 compared to other markets.
Headphones also underperformed in 2020, possibly due to the growth in the headset market. Headphones witnessed huge gains in the past two years with the introduction of Apple’s AirPods and AirPod Pros but as people switched from wireless to wired due to lockdowns, the market took a hit.
“The overall lack of mobility in the overall population as a result of staying-at-home hurt the overall headphone market,” Baker said.
Finally, wireless power devices underperformed in 2020 due to falling prices and lack of a killer application for the technology.
CES 2020 will be all-digital and will take place Jan. 11-14.