Smartphone Surge Heralds End of PC Era

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 {complink 7236| 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 passé 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.

40 comments on “Smartphone Surge Heralds End of PC Era

  1. Barbara Jorgensen
    February 10, 2012

    Jenn–was I glad to read this blog! I have the same reaction as you: patting my PC and reassuring it that it is still No. 1. And I know you are younger than me. I've decided that it is not really the technology of smartphones (or anything else) that is keeping me from going all in and buying Samsung's Note. It is what I use my various devices for. I still like my full-size keyboard and 17-inch screen. Mobility and always-on communication is great, but when it comes to work, my PC still rules.

  2. saranyatil
    February 10, 2012

    The comfort that you get when you start using your desktop is tremendous, I feel they aid us complete work fast . Whatever hi tech device I use at the end feel so awesome once I am staring at my pc.

  3. Nemos
    February 10, 2012

    I have the same feelings as you about the PC era,  and I don't believe will see an end.  The tremendous success of the tables in sales can be explained with the following phrase “The greater availability of smart phones at lower price points has helped tremendously,” .

    And it is very logical to have more sales of smart phones than pcs, but that fact does not mean that the end of PCs as we know it is coming ….

  4. Adeniji Kayode
    February 10, 2012

     I agree with you Barbara, reading your comments, I felt something for Pc and I feel while it not completely over for PC, I feel we all need to give our PC a pat in the back for a job well done and how far it has brought us and even prepared us to be able to adjust and blend to the new technology with it. Considering the differences between a typewriter and a desktop, I feel the gap is wider when you compared a PC to the new mobile devices around now. PC still prepared us well and served as a solid foundation for these new devices to buld on.

  5. Adeniji Kayode
    February 10, 2012

    @Saranyatil, You are right, Pc really gave us lots of space, comfort and the chance of doing so many things together all at the same time

  6. Adeniji Kayode
    February 10, 2012

    While it seems a lot of devices are doing a lot of what PC can do, the device that would completely put an end to the PC era is not yet in market yet. Non of these new devices can fully perform the same tasks as PC. So lets hope for a development or a modification or an invention of something else apart from other devices  we have around now that may end PC era.

  7. t.alex
    February 11, 2012

    Long time ago, I loved to have a desktop PC and laptop was too expensive. Now i just need an ultrabook. Grab it before it is totally replaced by tabs.

  8. _hm
    February 11, 2012

    I love my desktops with their dual 27 inch monitors. I need to have big monitor to do do good work.


  9. elctrnx_lyf
    February 12, 2012

    I do not think there is any end to PC but these devices might take a sahpe of all-in-one ocmputers. And I strongly believe the PCs are true work horses.

  10. Anne
    February 12, 2012

    @ Saranyatii,

    The comfort in using desktop is indeed awesome, and its still maintaining great sales for professional use.

  11. Anne
    February 12, 2012

    @ Adeniji Kayode,

    We can only hope to see a device that can replace PC totally, and just as you've said no device around at present can end the era of PC especially at enterprise level.

  12. itguyphil
    February 12, 2012


    Is it beacuse of multi-tasking? 2 27″ monitors provides alot of screen real estate.

  13. Ariella
    February 12, 2012

    If I had two screens, I wouldn't have to flip back and forth so much, so it would save a bit of time, though it might add an element of distraction.

  14. Jennifer Baljko
    February 12, 2012

    @Adenikl Kayode – I think you're right about the PC-replacement not being in market yet. We're moving in that direction, but it will depend, I think, more on human behavior changes than actual device.

  15. Jennifer Baljko
    February 12, 2012

    @_hm — Dual 27-in monitors!! How I would love that… I often feel like the more the industry pushes me towards smaller devices, the more I want to save my eyes and buy a gigantic screen.

  16. Jennifer Baljko
    February 12, 2012

    Since a few comments have been made about this, let's go a little further: What would the device that truly replaces PCs look like? And what's missing from the latest devices to earn that title? What features are a must-have and which ones are you willing to let go?

    Obviously, it has to have computing “horsepower,” be relatively light and very portable. It has to be fast, and, for me, I'd like something durable.

    What else?


  17. Jennifer Baljko
    February 12, 2012

    @Barbara – I hear you. I think for me it comes down to a combinational of pyschological comfort associated with certain devices and the practicality of how many devices I actually want vs need. My laptop is where I work, my tablet is for reading work stuff or magazines away from my laptop, my e-reader is for reading before I go to sleep, and my tiny MP3 is for the gym.I keep a “dumb” feature phone because I'm not fully convinced 24×7 contact and communication is really a good thing, although I'm definitely tipping away from that, not because I want a smartphone, but because I want a high-quality camera that allows me tweet from a cafe.

  18. Jennifer Baljko
    February 12, 2012

    t.alex – Funny you mention that. I was eyeing a super cheap netbook the other day, thinking it would make a practical travel companion when I'm backpacking to rural, remote places. I need something cheap, something I won't feel bad about if something happens to it; smartphone and tablets feel too fragile for me.

  19. Jennifer Baljko
    February 12, 2012

    So maybe what we're moving towards is a smartphone-sized device we can use 100 different ways. When we need it as a computer we hook it up to a regular keyboard and giant screens. When we want it as a camera, we pull it out of our pocket.

  20. jbond
    February 13, 2012

    As much as I don't think the laptops are going anywhere in the near future, there difinitely is a shift away from them. I think the next step is a hand held smartphone that can be utilized like a PC. If you can take this with you like a smartphone, then hook up to a docking station to use a keyboard and a monitor, the PC's will start dissapearing. I know Motorola already has a phone that can be docked, but it needs to dock to a computer. It is not a freestanding device. Either way technology is moving at break neck speeds and the hot new phone today is old news in just a couple of months.

  21. Adeniji Kayode
    February 13, 2012

    You are right and your comment is with condition too “professional use”

  22. Wale Bakare
    February 13, 2012

    It's hard forseen PC dissapperance at expense of smartphone or tablet PC. I just bought a new PC because am not comfortable with laptop most often.  I dont think smartphone can end PC workability. I can only foresee smartphone compete to replace tablet computer.

  23. Adeniji Kayode
    February 13, 2012

    It does not yet make sense what kind of device may replace PC, the only thing is just that there is hope of a revolution .

    February 13, 2012

    PC market is much more mature than the smartphone market and the growth is likely to be slower.  Tablet market is eating into PC market as a surfing and gaming replacement but does not really eat into the smartphone market (although I have seen tourists wandering around on vacation taking photos with an IPAD !).  I reckon the smartphone market will continue growing like crazy for now versus the PC market. 

  25. Adeniji Kayode
    February 13, 2012

    You are right, Pc is becoming homework machine day by day

  26. _hm
    February 13, 2012

    Yes, it is really great to work on big monitors. For my twin children, I also have dual 23 inch monitors and single 24 inch monitors. My wife wonders why I get so many monitors. 

  27. _hm
    February 13, 2012

    @Jennifer: I would again insist big (30ich) ultrasharp monitors (like that of Macs) with powerful graphics card. If they have wireless TV tuner with picture in picture, I can work longer while watching news.


  28. saranyatil
    February 14, 2012

    Now many companies are migrating to Laptops too, where work from home options are provided it becomes compulsory.

  29. saranyatil
    February 14, 2012

    Exactly Many feel the same.

  30. Adeniji Kayode
    February 14, 2012

    Steve jobs said in one of his speech that Ipad is the begining of the end of PC, could this be true at all if several comments on these article still show so much love and need for PC

  31. prabhakar_deosthali
    February 14, 2012

    It would be interesting to see how many of these smart phone owners are also having PCs or Laptops. The results will most likely show that teh smart phones are not replacing PCs in most of the cases buy are replacing the old style mobile phones.

    Si I doubt whether more smart phone sales means end of PC era.

  32. Jay_Bond
    February 14, 2012

    I find it hard to believe that the IPad or any other tablet is going to signify the end of the PC. Yes, it is going to eat into sales of PC's. One draw back to the Ipad or any other tablet is no disk drive. I still buy CD's and to upload my music i need a CD/DVD player, unlike other people I don't buy all of my music from Itunes which is what Jobs would love.

  33. Barbara Jorgensen
    February 14, 2012

    Since my primary job is writing, tablets and smartphones are just too small for typing and editing. But I'm wondering about people who aren't tied to their keyboards. Salesfolk–can you live without a PC? Other road warriors?

    I think tablets should be more threatened by smartphones. As blasphemous (sp?) as it sounds, a phone and laptop/PC are a necessity; a tablet is nice to have.

  34. stochastic excursion
    February 15, 2012

    A good part of PC sales over the past decades has come from feature-rich software and OS, which consume more and more memory and processor time.  With the mobile platform, the trend for software seems to be to run lean and take up less hardware resources.  This has probably made the market more complacent with legacy PC technology.

  35. itguyphil
    February 17, 2012


    Most people with more than 1 monitor know the truth… you still spend most of your time staring at ONE. You occasionally look at the second so technically, 1 would still do just fine. It is just convenient to not have to do more than change your gaze to see your 'less important' windows.

  36. Ariella
    February 17, 2012


    So would right-handed people put the main ones and the right and left-handed people have theirs on the left? Or maybe they follow traffic conventions and always put the main on the right except for in countries that drive on the left side of the road.

  37. t.alex
    February 17, 2012

    Diplay is always a concern. Some people prefer smaller sizes while others bigger size. I would love to have some tiny projector that can display big or small size anywhere, perhaps into the air!

  38. JADEN
    February 18, 2012

    I don't see any smartphone taking the place of PC.  Considering the enterprise use, smartphones can not function as PC, though when talking about HTML browsing, video streaming, GPS navigation, and third party applications especially for social networking, we can be talking of smartphone but for enterprise use, smartphone is nothing.

  39. itguyphil
    February 21, 2012

    I think the left to right sequence of important to less important screens makes the most sense (at least in the US). I can vouch for that one.

  40. Ariella
    February 21, 2012

    @pocharle well, that would fit with how we read English, left to right. Perhaps someone can look into how people arrange their screens in countries that read languages right to left. 

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