Smartphone sales exceed those of PCs for first time, Apple smashes record

Figures published by research firm Canalys on Friday show that for the first time ever, shipments of smartphones have exceeded those of PCs, a category that includes tablet computers, or “pads” as Canalys calls them.

The data shows that last year a whopping 487.7 million smartphones were shipped, compared to 414.6 million PCs. This marks a 62.7 percent increase on shipments of smartphones for 2011.

The healthy smartphone sales can be partly attributed to Apple’s iPhone, which sold well through the year, including 37 million units in the final quarter. This impressive figure saw the Cupertino company break the record for the largest number of smartphones shipped worldwide in one quarter by a single vendor. The previous holder of the record, Nokia, shipped 28.3 million devices in the final quarter of 2010.

Commenting on the figures, Canalys VP and principal analyst Chris Jones said, “Smartphone shipments overtaking those of client PCs should be seen as a significant milestone.”

He continued, “In the space of a few years, smartphones 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 smartphones 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.”

Although PCs have been knocked from the top spot by smartphones, it’s not quite time for the industry to throw in the towel. It still managed to grow 14.8 percent in 2011, though admittedly this was due mainly to massive tablet sales. Looking at the figures more closely, we can see that the tablet industry grew 274.2 percent in 2011—with Apple’s iPad playing a big part—while notebooks grew by just 7.5 percent and desktops 2.3 percent. The netbook market, on the other hand, slumped 25.3 percent last year.

“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,” Jones said, adding, “But pads have had negligible impact on smartphone volumes and markets across the globe have seen persistent and substantial growth through 2011.”

The unremarkable figures for the PC market, tablets excepted, may be a worrying read for Ultrabook manufacturers in a year that will see many new models of the new type of PC come to market.

[Image: Reno Martin / Shutterstock]

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