Smartphone sales overtook PCs in 2011

Smartphone sales grew by 62% during 2011, reaching 488 million units sold and, for the first time, outselling the venerable PC in all of its forms. According to a report for Canalys, smartphones overtook PC sales, including tablets, desktops, and every kind of notebook you can think of, which only sold a combined 415 million units.

The change marks a major milestone in the history of technology, showing that more and more people are, unsurprisingly, embracing more mobile forms of computing. Even though traditional PCs are going strong and won't be disappearing any time soon (almost 209 million notebooks sold last year, 112 million desktops), they no longer represent the end all be all of computing.

The study also shows a very sharp drop in netbook sales, which was more than offset by huge growth in tablets, with only 29 million million units selling last year, a 25% decline from 2010. As Chris Jones, Canalys VP and Principal Analyst, puts it, “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 smartphone volumes..."

As you might expect, Apple came out as the most successful smartphone vendor, with Samsung not too far behind, although Android came in as the largest platform. It's hard to call Nokia's performance good but, as the report puts it, it does give cause for a bit of optimism. With 77 million smartphones shipped, it's down from their record high from 2010, but at least it's an improvement from Q3 of 2011. But what about Windows Phone, in particular?

Windows Phones represented only 1.2 million of Nokia's shipments in the last quarter of 2011, Canalys Senior Analyst Tim Sheppard feels good about the platform.

“They are well-designed, competitive devices that demonstrate innovation is still alive within Nokia. But the battle is not over and it has huge challenges ahead. Nokia must continue to build out its Lumia portfolio with devices tailored to address all price points and all the markets in which it aims to compete. It must hasten its transition from Symbian to Windows Phone around the world and, with Microsoft, promote and generate excitement for the platform and new products. And it must succeed in attracting more developers to build high quality, locally relevant apps.”

Last and least is RIM, which is clinging to the rim (pun not intended), but it isn't all bad. While it did make some progress with pushing its new platforms, and did manage to squeeze out a 5% growth total, the future holds even tougher battles for the former smartphone overlord.

Have no doubt that this is, in the eloquent words of Vice President Joe Biden, a 'big f%#^ing deal'. Even though skeptics might point out that there have probably been a lot more cellphones than PCs for the past ten. years or so, that's not the point. Those devices were cellphones, and even the Blackberrys of the past existed in a totally different realm, with completely different usage scenarios, than the smartphones of today.

Today's smartphones are way more than something you talk to other people with, way more than something executives take notes and check their e-mail with, and way more than a console kids play games on: they're all of that and more. In other words, they're a computer in the palm of your hand – a computer, it just so happens, that ten years ago would've weighed twenty pounds and sat on your desk, hooked up to a flickering CRT monitor.

Chart courtesy of Canalys

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29 Comments

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As someone else said this is a bizarre comparison. Aside from the fact that both are tech devices and both have access to the internet uhh they're not the same thing and they don't serve the same purpose. A PC is a poor phone substitute and a phone is a poor PC substitute. I bought a smartphone this year, and it's an amazing little device, but I've never even considered it to be competition for my PC, because it's not. I'm going to upgrade my PC later this year and I'm not going to see that as competition to my phone either because it's not.

Hmm.

Maybe it's because people have their PC, but now want to 'start' smartphoning?

I really wouldn't read too much into it.
Smartphones are also upgraded quicker.
They are in the beginning so the evolution is a lot faster and the speed more needed than with PCs nowadays.

GS:ios

Edited by Glassed Silver, Feb 5 2012, 7:31pm :

It depend what you want to do person ally i need my 1080p and 60 fps so i bought PC gaming with console you get the experience with crappier graphics but it the same game at the end.

My smartphone is used for replying email 90% of the time or pass time in the bus. The hyper mobility of internet with smartphones is awesome

Windows 7 allowed me to reuse an old 2006 hp notebook as my main pc. And with windows 8 i could use it for other 6 years. Software optimizations can ensure long life to old hardware... i'm sorry for android and apple users who needs to upgrade every year.

fenderMarky said,
Windows 7 allowed me to reuse an old 2006 hp notebook as my main pc. And with windows 8 i could use it for other 6 years. Software optimizations can ensure long life to old hardware... i'm sorry for android and apple users who needs to upgrade every year.

Well... I got my galaxy s for free. How much did you pay for your laptop?

That's the sign of a saturated / declining market. Very little in the way of high end software is directly targeted at the PC these days. Most AAA games are multi-platform and need only meet typical console hardware requirements. Serious graphic software is mostly a niche market.

onionjuice said,

Well... I got my galaxy s for free. How much did you pay for your laptop?

You didn't get it for free, nothings free, you are paying for the phone through your access fees.

sam232 said,

You didn't get it for free, nothings free, you are paying for the phone through your access fees.

Thank you, but please understand the context I said it in...

onionjuice said,

Thank you, but please understand the context I said it in...

I got my laptop for free aswell...on a 2 year contract, whats the difference?

alwaysonacoffebreak said,

I got my laptop for free aswell...on a 2 year contract, whats the difference?

which one? The point was you don't invest much in getting a new phone. Sure you have to pay monthly fees. But after 2 years (contract) the careers gives you FREE or $10/$50 smart phones. You don't have the option to get a free or a laptop that costs $100 after 2 years or so.

onionjuice said,

which one? The point was you don't invest much in getting a new phone. Sure you have to pay monthly fees. But after 2 years (contract) the careers gives you FREE or $10/$50 smart phones. You don't have the option to get a free or a laptop that costs $100 after 2 years or so.

Actually. Wrong. When I last was in the UK carphonewarehouse gave away free laptops/tvs/consoles on a 2 year contract when you bought a phone (with a the same contract and you actually "paid only for the phone")

alwaysonacoffebreak said,

Actually. Wrong. When I last was in the UK carphonewarehouse gave away free laptops/tvs/consoles on a 2 year contract when you bought a phone (with a the same contract and you actually "paid only for the phone")

You're still missing my point.

Of course everyone will credit Apple for this and forget all the good work done by ARM/Samsung/Qualcomm/Others to make the technology possible to get some serious processing power in a small form factor. Without the good work by these companies there is no way Apple can deliver your shiny new iphone/pads to you.

Likewise, without Apple those components would still be going to waste.

Staying on topic this is easily believable. I have personally had two smartphones now, in that time I still haven't upgraded my PC. When I look around everyone these days has a smartphone regardless if they use it mainly for phoning around.

SK[ said,]Likewise, without Apple those components would still be going to waste.
.

ROFLMAO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

There's no games which people are after which require new hardware. Hardware being released is only revisionary stuff nothing new and that's why desktop market isn't moving much.

Netbooks are declining because of UMPC/ultrabooks are becoming more ideal size and performance wise and notebooks are pretty consistent because everyone who uses them will need a new one eventually. Tablets are in a game of their own and more or less like smartphones are supplementary devices which are driven by cheaper prices as 3rd gen android tablets come in and become more popular and older models are cleared out and people buying ipads because ipads.

Digitalx said,
There's no games which people are after which require new hardware. Hardware being released is only revisionary stuff nothing new and that's why desktop market isn't moving much.

That's a good point. I wonder how much the console market is inadvertently slowing down PC shipments due to the console-like requirements of multi-platform targeted games.

Silly comparison.
Most I know change their phone at least once every 12-18 months, whereas a decent desktop PC will last 3-4 years before needing consideration of upgrade.

Exosphere said,
Silly comparison.
Most I know change their phone at least once every 12-18 months, whereas a decent desktop PC will last 3-4 years before needing consideration of upgrade.

That's even longer today, as indicated by a recent forum poll. If you have a i3/5/7 or even a core 2 duo machine, you'll not likely upgrade it for 5 years plus, except perhaps discrete graphics/SSD. However, for the average PC/laptop consumer, I think we've reached the point where hardware has surpassed software in terms of power (generally), so the typical upgrade/new PC cycle will doubtless be extended.

I suspect a lot of it is down to most people wanting a new and trendy handheld device while they are happy to stick with their old PC and moan about it being slow.

alexalex said,
Without the Pads PC sales are declining.

Interesting, if tablet is considered to be a PC, then I wonder what Apple's market share is. Traditionally, tablets do not count as PC sale.

*facepalm* ...and I bet toilet paper outsold silk scarves last year too. Can anyone really be surprised that a small form factor device that can access much of what your PC can do and be extremely portable, fashionable, and most importantly beyond all else - cheaper - sold more?

Yes, we can be surprised because this is the first year that smartphones (not traditional mobile phones) overtook traditional PC sales. Lol the whole point of this article

Neobond said,
Yes, we can be surprised because this is the first year that smartphones (not traditional mobile phones) overtook traditional PC sales. Lol the whole point of this article

Thats because they have come on leaps and bounds in a year, more people have phones than computer.. it's a stupid report that states the obvious. The phone is developing quicker than the PC. Everyone has a phone but not everyone has a computer.. plus phones are upgraded/replaced far more than computers.

You can have a family of 4 who may go through 6-8 phones in 2-3 year between them, but may only go through 2 computers.

Uplift said,

Thats because they have come on leaps and bounds in a year, more people have phones than computer.. it's a stupid report that states the obvious. The phone is developing quicker than the PC. Everyone has a phone but not everyone has a computer.. plus phones are upgraded/replaced far more than computers.

You can have a family of 4 who may go through 6-8 phones in 2-3 year between them, but may only go through 2 computers.

Well, I didn't know that. Most people I know have a desktop and a laptop, and then just one phone. But then I don't know 7 billion people so I couldn't give an overview of everyone's tech ownership like you.

Interesting though, you make it sound like this has been the norm for years, and yet this is the first year smartphones have outsold PCs.

what said,

Well, I didn't know that. Most people I know have a desktop and a laptop, and then just one phone. But then I don't know 7 billion people so I couldn't give an overview of everyone's tech ownership like you.

Interesting though, you make it sound like this has been the norm for years, and yet this is the first year smartphones have outsold PCs.

it was more of a generalisation, i know it's not the case for everyone.. but it is not uncommon for people to buy computers and it last them years, where as phones are usually replaced as soon as possible.

Uplift said,

it's a stupid report that states the obvious.

What? How is it stating the obvious if this is the first year that its happened? Smartphones have started showing up everywhere in the last couple of years and its interesting to see that they've actually overtaken sales of PCs now.