At the end of 2010, it was big news when all of the analyst firms reported that smartphone shipments had out-paced PC shipments in the final quarter of the year for the first time in history. Never before had the traditional PC been out-shipped by a different "computing" platform. It was an unprecedented changing of the guard in computing.

But did that trend continue throughout the rest of 2011? Or was it a one-time quarterly blip?

Surprisingly, after some concerted searching efforts, I found no simple answer to this question. So, I set-out to form my own comparison of smartphone shipments versus PC shipments for each quarter in 2011.

Using data available from IDC, the analyst firm that everyone generally relies on to tally PC and smartphone shipments, I compiled the reported smartphone and PC shipments for each quarter (so far) in 2011. I also compared the final two quarters of 2010, the point at which smartphones overtook PCs. Here's what the numbers show:

Smartphone vs PC Shipments (in millions)

  Q3 2010 Q4 2010 Q1 2011 Q2 2011 Q3 2011
Smartphones 81.1 100.9 99.6 106.5 118.1
PC 89.7 92.1 80.6 84.4 91.9

*All figures via IDC research


The numbers are clear. Smartphones passed PCs in 2010 and haven't looked back in 2011. If these trends hold, more new smartphones will ship every quarter than PCs as we march in to the future.

So what?

Fair question. What is the importance in noting that smartphones are out-shipping PCs on a regular basis? For this audience, primarily web and HTML/JS developers, I think there are a few important conclusions:

1. Mobile cannot be an after thought

As smartphones continue to saturate the market, and more users interact with the web through these devices, it becomes essential to treat the smartphone experience as equally important as the PC. We have to shake the old habits of treating mobile versions of our content as "nice to have" or good things to do after we build a PC experience. Arguably, mobile is now just as- if not more, in some cases- important than what we build for the PC. And in the future, as mobile devices continue to out-ship PCs, the relative importance of smartphones to PCs will only continue to grow.

2. Plug-ins are a liability (for "reach" development)

There was a time when browser-based plug-ins, like Flash, were a suitable "work around" for building rich software that needed to be delivered through the Internet (software with "reach"). When almost every PC on the planet had the plug-ins pre-installed, or could easily install as needed, there was little reason not to use plug-ins for added richness.

With the proliferation of smartphones, though, that equation changes. Now plug-ins are absent on the fastest growing segment of devices consumers are using to access your content. The only platform that helps you easily target all devices- PCs and smartphones (and tablets, which are unaccounted for here)- is HTML5.

(Of course, if you're specifically targeting PCs, plug-ins are still a very viable for targeted software.)

3. PCs are not dead

While the headline is the success of smartphones, it's important to note that PCs are not dead. Other than a poor Q1 2011, the first quarter since the last global recession to show a decline in PC shipments, PC sales remain relatively strong. New PCs are still shipping every quarter.

Fortunately, a strategy that embraces HTML5 creates opportunity to serve the traditional software needs of PCS and the new software needs of smartphones with a single skill set.

What about tablets?

Things look even "worse" for PCs when you factor-in "media tablets" (as IDC refers to things like the iPad, Nook Color, and similar). Tablets are not tracked in IDC's PC or smartphone shipments, but instead are tracked in a new, separate category.

In total, IDC predicts roughly 63 million tablets to ship in 2011, compared to just 17 million in 2010.

Given that most tablets, like smartphones, are best served with HTML5 or native apps (instead of relying on plug-ins, like Flash), the addition of tablet shipments only further skews the data in favor of software development approaches that also benefit smartphones. They further turn the tables towards HTML5.

Kendo UI for PCs and Smartphones (and Tablets)

Of course, with Kendo UI, this is the market direction we've been tracking and anticipating. Kendo UI was designed from the outset to give you a set of tools that helps you build software for PCs (Kendo UI Web) and software for smartphones and tablets (Kendo UI Mobile). It pulls together everything you need to successfully build software for a world where more smartphones and tablets ship every quarter than new PCs.

In fact, if you want to see an early preview of our work for smartphones, be sure to try the online Kendo UI Mobile "simulator." It let's you see how Kendo UI adapts automatically to different devices, helping you build "native-like" apps with HTML5.

Ultimately, one thing is certain: PCs are increasingly being replaced and supplemented by smartphones and tablets, especially for basic app tasks and Internet usage, and as a developer you need to be ready to build software for this form factor today. We just think tools like Kendo UI will help you be ready a little faster!

About the Author

Todd Anglin

Todd Anglin is Vice President of Product at Progress. Todd is responsible for leading the teams at Progress focused on NativeScript, a modern cross-platform solution for building native mobile apps with JavaScript. Todd is an author and frequent speaker on web and mobile app development. Follow Todd @toddanglin for his latest writings and industry insights.

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