Once upon a time, smartphones were just the expensive cousins of cheap cellphones that could make calls, maybe play a few ringtones, and if you were lucky surf a few web pages. Today smartphones are tiny computers that you can fit in your pocket… which might help explain why more more smartphones were shipped last year than traditional PCs — and that includes iPads and other tablets.
Research firm Canalys has released its estimates for smartphone and PC shipments in 2011, and the company says nearly 488 million smartphones hit the market last year. That’s compared with about 415 million PCs.
That figure represents a 63 percent year-over-year increase for smartphones, and a 15 percent increase in PCs. In other words, it’s not that the PC market is shrinking — it’s just that it’s not growing nearly as quickly as the smartphone market.
Confirming what I’d heard from Intel, Canalys suggests that demand for netbooks is shrinking, but estimates that more than 29 million were still shipped last year. Meanwhile shipments of tablets or “pads” as the company calls them may have risen to 63 million to help keep the PC category going… although it’s arguable whether it makes sense to put the iPad in the same category as an iMac.
You can find more details in the Canalys press release. There’s also an interesting breakdown of smartphone operating systems. As you’d expect, Android leads the pack and shows the fastest growth, but iOS and even Symbian are still awfully popular.
Bear in mind that the company’s figures are just estimates, but they’re based on figures available directly from phone and PC makers with some educated guesses thrown in to help fill in the blanks.