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In 2020, workers forced to remain home by the pandemic used portable monitors with their laptops to replicate their office setups. Manufacturers expect the trend to continue into next year, driving significantly higher demand for the devices.
Aimed initially at bolstering productivity on the road, the monitors, which are typically 15 inches, provide a second screen that workers pair with their laptops. That allows for more screen space to refer to notes, check the web or view large images without zooming out or scrolling.
In the home, workers without dedicated office space take portable monitors and laptops with them when a teen needs the room for an online class or a family member needs the kitchen to cook. Even before the pandemic, younger workers with roommates bought the devices, so they could move around a house or apartment as needed, said Ray Hedrick, product manager at ViewSonic.
"What [people] wanted was the flexibility of a monitor they could have set up in the den in the morning, in the kitchen in midday and up in the bedroom ... at night," he said. "You can't really do that easily with a traditional monitor."
During the pandemic, portable monitor sales have gone "through the roof," and ViewSonic expects that trend to continue, Hedrick said. "We're trying to get as many out there as we can."
Aaron Slessinger, HP director of commercial displays, said he also sees high demand for portable monitors in 2021. "It's always hard to predict the future -- COVID has taught us that -- but we expect the market to stay strong," he said.
Stefan Engel, general manager of Lenovo's display business, said sales of portable monitors took off after companies sent employees home with unwieldy desktop monitors. "The monitors were big, and people don't have the space," he said.
In its latest PC monitor report, IDC said global shipments rose 15.9% year to year in the third quarter, surpassing expectations at 37.5 million units. Driving monitor demand was the pandemic-fueled increase in the number of people working and learning from home. IDC expected demand to remain high through the first half of 2021.
Not everyone believes portable monitors will perform well next year. People who continue working from home will likely have a dedicated room, NPD Group analyst Stephen Baker said. He predicted sales of portable displays will be slower than that of stationary monitors.
Whatever the display's size, companies should provide monitors, chairs, desks and other gear that make working from home as comfortable as the office, Forrester Research analyst Andrew Hewitt said. However, Hewitt added that he expects many companies to fall short in their support of home workers.
"The reality is that a lot of organizations are going to underinvest in this," he said. Hewitt cited a recent survey reporting that only 34% of information workers believed their company was doing a good job supporting remote employees.