The third screen wins our hearts as smartphones now outsell PCs

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In a landmark moment for the mobile phone industry, the little screen of the smartphone has now overtaken the big screen of the PC. For the first time ever, the number of smartphones have surpassed PC sales, with a staggering 100.9 million smartphones shipped during the last quarter of 2010.

The trend is clear: we want to access the internet on the go. With smartphones such as the iPhone and BlackBerry providing increasingly better internet access, it seems we do not need to be asked twice to jump on this bandwagon. In 2010, 74.4% more smartphones were shipped than the year before, according to numbers from the International Data Corporation (IDC). In comparison, 92 million PC units were shipped in the fourth quarter, just 3% higher than the year before.

Dual approach
Better browsing capabilities, improved processing power and a seemingly endless stream of nifty features means mobile users are increasingly looking to upgrade. Soon we will have handsets with near field communication (NFC) chips, meaning our phones can be used to pay for things too – cue another upgrade.

While we will all be holding on to our PCs or Macs as well, these devices do not come with the same lure for constant upgrades. The computer will remain in the background as a trusty workhorse for when we need a bigger screen to look at something, or we want to perform a task that needs better processing power. Uploading photos will remain a job for the computer, as well as any sort of editing, design or significant word processing.

Tablet computers, such as the iPad, were counted in the mobile segment in the IDC study. The bigger screen means a tablet is a more serious threat to the PC, but still, it cannot beat a laptop as a serious work tool. While the trend towards mobile dominance is clear in terms of volumes, it seems unlikely that one mobile device will take over completely. The phone is too small to work on, while a tablet or mini-PC is too big to make calls with. We might be facing a Winnie the Pooh future, in other words: ‘Yes please, both,’ said the famous bear, and that sounds about right.

Android hot on the trail
Maintaining its spot as the top global vendor, the IDC study showed Nokia now has a third of the phone market, followed by Research in Motion with 16.1%. Apple has 15.7%, followed by Samsung and HTC respectively. Ramon Llamas, senior research analyst at IDC, said Samsung and HTC are likely to overtake the Symbian platform, due to their support for Android.

While Nokia and its Symbian-based phones remain on top for the moment, the competition is getting aggressive; Android smartphone sales rose by 7% last year, meaning it now has 28.7% of the market. Judging from the memo sent by new Nokia boss Stephen Elop yesterday, even he is concerned about the rapid slide in market share, describing the Symbian platform as ‘burning’.

‘[Android] has become the cornerstone for 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,’ says Llamas.

ShinyJess