Smartphone “inflection point” reached ahead of schedule

For the first time ever, global shipments of smartphones have exceeded shipments of PCs. We’ve all known this was coming, but the most oft-referenced projection (Mary Meeker of Morgan Stanley) had it occurring in 2012. A new report on smartphone sales from International Data Corp (IDC), when compared with a prior IDC report on PC sales reveals the event took place in the fourth quarter of 2010.

smartphone sales 4th quarter 2010

The numbers above show 100 million smartphones were shipped in the 4th quarter. The compares to only 92 million PCs shipped in the same period, as stated in an earlier IDC report. The tipping point appears to have been brought about by Android, according to IDC’s press release.

“Android continues to gain by leaps and bounds, helping to drive the smartphone market,” said Ramon Llamas, senior research analyst with IDC’s Mobile Phone Technology and Trends team. “It has become the cornerstone of multiple vendors’ smartphone strategies, and has quickly become a challenger to market leader Symbian. Although Symbian has the backing of market leader Nokia, Android has multiple vendors, including HTC, LG Electronics, Motorola, Samsung and a growing list of companies deploying Android on their devices.” reports that the numbers seem surprising at first but make sense:

For one thing, most people already have PCs, and the market is saturated with them, while smartphone sales are on the rise. Additionally, most smartphones today do everything people want a PC for anyway, including email, browsing and Facebook. On subsidy, the average smartphone is cheaper than a PC to boot, so is it any wonder that so many people are eschewing buying a new computer when they can buy a new smartphone instead?

What’s really important here is that this will accelerate the growth of the portable Web, which functions in every aspect like the wired Web. Don’t get caught up in the idea that portability brings a “do-over” for traditional media companies, because we’re already seeing significant evidence that “apps” aren’t the be-all and end-all that they were originally touted to be. Apps work very well for certain functions, but news and news consumption isn’t one of them. For this, we need the open Web and the back end of HTML5.

We’re much smarter to follow the wisdom of Borrell Associates’ Kip Cassino: “It’s not so much that mobile devices take over as it is that most computing devices become mobile.” That take-over is occurring even faster than anybody imagined, thanks to Android.

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