Smartphones outsell PCs for the first time

Market watcher IDC has released figures that reveal a momentous occasion in the world of computing: for the first time in history, more smartphones were sold than PCs.

The figures, released by IDC's Mobile Phone Tracker this week, suggest that 100.9 million smartphones were shipped in Q4 2010. That's an impressive figure, made more so by the sheer growth: year-on-year, smartphone shipments have grown 87.2 per cent, the company said.

The numbers contrast markedly with those released by the company last month for the PC market, which suggested that a mere 92 million PCs and laptops were sold in the quarter - representing a 2.7 per cent growth year-on-year.

"Android continues to gain by leaps and bounds, helping to drive the smartphone market," said Ramon Llamas, senior research analyst at IDC. "It has become the cornerstone of multiple vendors' smartphone strategies, and has quickly become a challenger to market leader Symbian."

The increase in low-end Android devices suitable for those on a budget appears to have been the major driving force for the massive growth, although high-end devices are well represented in the figures. Samsung in particular has enjoyed a bumper quarter, with the release of the Galaxy S and Galaxy Tab Android-based devices propelling the electronics giant to 438.9 per cent year-on-year growth.

Discussing whether the massive growth experienced by the market in Q4 could be sustained, IDC's Kevin Restivo claimed "mobile phone users will find compelling reasons to turn in their older models as new ones are launched with dual-core processors and near-field communication chips."

The massive growth of the smartphone market is good news for all involved, but one company can enjoy the success more than any other: ARM. The British company's chip designs power the overwhelming majority of smartphones, despite Intel's belated efforts to push its Atom designs into the market.

It's possible that the growing power of smartphones coupled with their undeniable portability has resulted in a tipping point where laptops and even desktops are becoming increasingly unnecessary for a surprisingly large number of people. If so, it's time for the PC market to take note - and for Intel and AMD to think about backup plans.