The numbers don't lie: Mobile devices overtaking PCs

August 11, 2010: 6:41 PM ET

Here it comes: Mobile will soon outsell PCs.

Tim Bray last week attempted to conceptualize the market change that is happening in computing in a post called the Great Game.  In a nutshell, what we are seeing in smartphones is bigger than anything that has come before it.  Much bigger than the PC.  And it is coming so fast that we don't realize what's happening.

The Numbers Are Really Big · Insane, I mean. The billion-plus phones sold per year. The number of active subscriptions, which is greater than half of the human population. The number of new Android devices that check in with Google every day. The line-ups outside Apple stores for every new iOS device. The hundreds of thousands of apps. The ridiculous number of new ones that flow into Android Market every day. Everywhere I look, I see something astounding.

Based on their respective numbers, the companies below represent the biggest OS vendors in both the smartphone and desktop space on earth. What's interesting is that, with the explosion of iOS devices and Android over the past year and the relative stagnation of the desktop market, mobile OS shipments are approaching that of desktop OSes.  In fact, smartphones may be surpassing desktop OS shipments right now.  I'm going to attempt to prove that below.

If you add up the desktop OSes (Windows, Mac and a few Linux) and mobile OSes (Android, iOS, Windows Mobile, Linux, Palm and more) you get around 900,000 units a day for desktop vs. 800,000+ for smartphone OSes.

Numbers compiled from sources at bottom

Something to consider however: Windows 7 (the biggie) includes Microsoft (MSFT) OS updates as well as new unit shipments, which the others don't. That skews the number a little.

However, we have another measure, IDC's PC shipments for the quarter at just over 81 million for the most recent quarter.  That's about 887,000 per day. Using the same type of data, IDC estimates that there were 64 million smartphones shipped globally in the same quarter, or 713,000 per day.

Here's the thing:  Smartphones are currently exploding in an unprecedented way, thanks largely to Google's (GOOG) Android OS. Earlier this quarter, Android devices were selling at half the speed they are currently. That doesn't mean other platforms are slowing down either.  With the exception of Windows Mobile, every other major platform is growing phenomenally:

Canalys numbers: Even without Android, the Smartphone market grew almost 50% year over year

Canalys also charts smartphones by OS and gets similar total numbers for the second quarter of 2010 (62.5 million units) as IDC.  But for Android, Calalys tally  just over 10 million devices.  We know from Google CEO Eric Schmidt's recent remarks that the company is now activating 200,000 units a day or over 18 million a quarter for the third quarter  Apple (AAPL) too, has set astronomical expectations for its iPhone, projecting that it will sell over 11 million for the quarter. And Apple is usually very conservative on its estimates. Even if everyone else in the smartphone world remains flat, that's an additional 10 million devices in the current quarter. And that is being conservative.

Speaking of Apple, IDC's numbers don't count iPads and iPod touch devices as either smartphones or PCs.  While the gadgets often can replace the functionality of a netbook, iPads/iPods have a smartphone's DNA (ARM Processors/mobile OS).  Counting them as such adds close to 10 million additional devices to the 'smartphone' tally in the quarter.

Apple is expected to launch some new iPods this quarter and Samsung, Dell (DELL) and an army of low-cost device manufacturers are making small Android devices that aren't meant to function like a phone.  The flood of these devices will start during this quarter.

If you add those up, that puts an additional 20+ million 'smartphones', or should I say 'mobile devices", to the tallies from IDC and it means that we are reaching that tipping point right now:

Smartphones, or Mobile devices, will soon become the dominant computing platform for humanity and supplant the PC which has reigned since Apple ignited the Personal Computer revolution in the late 1970's.  Apple's CEO Steve Jobs said as much at the AllThingsD conference earlier this year.  He compared PCs to trucks that not everyone would need in the future.  Tablets and smartphones would be in everyones hands.  But, I don't even think Jobs saw it coming this quickly.

Just a few years after the launch of the iPhone, it is Game Over for PCs.

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About This Author
Seth Weintraub
Seth Weintraub

Google went from searching the Web to worming its way into nearly every facet of business and government. Seth Weintraub unveils where the company is going, who it's competing with, who it's about to compete with and how market forces push the company to veer or adhere to its Don't Be Evil motto. For 15 years, Weintraub was a global IT director for a number of companies before becoming a blogger.

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