Obviously, Smartphone Shipments Exceeded PC Sales in 2011

Market researchers from Canalys this week announced that overall sales of smartphone handsets exceeded those of PCs in calendar year 2011. But the firm's numbers artificially amplify PC sales by including sales of tablet devices and don't correspond at all with numbers from other researchers.

"Smartphone shipments overtaking those of client PCs should be seen as a significant milestone," said Canalys VP and principal analyst Chris Jones. "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."

According to Canalys, hardware makers shipped 488 million smartphones during 2011, compared with 415 million PCs. But Canalys' numbers are off in some obvious ways. First, they're artificially inflated because the firm spuriously includes tablet devices in the PC figure. Take out the 63 million tablets sold in the year, and the total number of PCs shipped goes to 352 million units, the figure that Gartner also reports.

Nothing can hide the fact that smartphones are now far more popular than PCs. It's not even close.

And, yes, it's fair to claim that smartphones, tablet devices, and PCs can perhaps soon be combined into a single market category called "personal computing devices." Why Canalys combines smartphones and PCs, and not smartphones and tablets, or all three, is unclear. For now, however, I'd argue that these categories—smartphones, tablets, and PCs—are three separate product types and should be measured separately.

Second, Canalys massages its numbers in ways I find dishonest. It claims that Apple somehow edged out Samsung as the number-one maker of smartphones for 2011, the only time I've seen such a claim. But it does so by not crediting Samsung with the sales of some of its devices, the Nexus S and Galaxy Nexus; these are instead credited to "Google."

Looking at the share breakdowns for the markets for smartphones, tablets, and PCs separately, the Canalys numbers start to make a bit more sense. In smartphones, Android was number one in 2011 by far, with 52 percent of the market, followed by iOS (23 percent) and Symbian (12 percent). Total tablet sales were about 15 percent the size of the actual PC market. And Apple's iPad accounted for roughly 60 percent of overall tablet sales, with Android devices once again making big gains.

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