Given how fast technology changes and how quickly it's adopted globally, should we be surprised to hear that smartphone shipments have outpaced PCs? It's one of those things written on tech-evolution walls, isn't it?
Even if it was anticipated, and obvious, I have to say I was a bit sad reading the news... Well, perhaps, nostaglic would be a better word.
Recently, research firm Canalys.com Ltd. reported the crossover happened in 2011. Even with hyped-up tablet-type device shipments included, sexy smartphones took a noticeable lead over their rather passť computing hardware brothers. You can find all the charts and stats here, but this is the top-level take-away:
Vendors shipped 158.5 million smart phones in Q4 2011, up 57% on the 101.2 million units shipped in Q4 2010. This bumper quarter took total global shipments for the whole of 2011 to 487.7 million units, up 63% on the 299.7 million smart phones shipped throughout 2010. By comparison, the global client PC market grew 15% in 2011 to 414.6 million units, with 274% growth in pad shipments. Pads accounted for 15% of all client PC shipments in 2011.
Although 2012 may take some of the "Wow" factor out of smartphones and slow the runaway sales uptick as smartphones become more commonplace, Canalys VP Chris Jones believes this was a significant development. He said further about last year's market dynamics:
In 2011 we saw a fall in demand for netbooks, and slowing demand for notebooks and desktops as a direct result of rising interest in pads... But pads have had negligible impact on smart phone volumes and markets across the globe have seen persistent and substantial growth through 2011.
Smart phone shipments overtaking those of client PCs should be seen as a significant milestone. In the space of a few years, smart phones have grown from being a niche product segment at the high-end of the mobile phone market to becoming a truly mass-market proposition. The greater availability of smart phones at lower price points has helped tremendously, but there has been a driving trend of increasing consumer appetite for Internet browsing, content consumption and engaging with apps and services on mobile devices.
After I read the above statement, I immediately patted my laptop and said, "Don't worry, I still love you." Call me old-fashioned, but it's kind of sad to see a significant milestone like this come to pass. It's likely for the foreseeable future that many people -- myself included -- will still need and use both computing and mobile platforms and will continue to buy both tools. However, it's possible we're stepping closer to the end of the PC era. I think that deserves a moment of reflection.
I was in fifth grade in 1981 when I first laid hands on a computer keyboard. I didn't realize then what a life-changing moment it was. But, I'm grateful for the power -- and eventually, mobility -- the computer age put in my hands. It's been a good run.
That said, I guess it doesn't really matter anymore if we call the tools that make our lives run smoother and more efficiently PCs, Macs, smartphones, netbooks, or tablets. It's the technology horsepower under the hood we've all come to love.