Smartphone shipments surpassed PCs for first time in 2011

Smartphone shipments overtook personal computers – including tablets, laptops, netbooks and desktops – for the first time in 2011, according to new research from Canalys.

Vendors globally shipped 158.8 million smartphones in the fourth quarter of last year, and 487.7 million for the full year, Canalys reported Friday.

That compares to 120.2 million client PCs shipped during the quarter and 414.6 million for the whole year. That category includes tablets, netbooks, desktops and laptops. The biggest of the four by far was laptops, which accounted for more than half of the annual total; tablets made up 15%.

Smartphone shipments increased last year by 63% over the 299.7 million shipped in 2010. The global client PC market grew by just 15% year-to-year.

In all, 2011 saw a decline in demand for netbooks, slowing demand for laptops and desktops and a rise in tablets, Canalys said. “But tablets have had a negligible impact on smartphone volumes… Markets across the globe have seen persistent and substantial [smartphone] growth through 2011,” said Chris Jones, a Canalys analyst, in a statement.

“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 become a truly mass market proposition,” he added.

Jones noted that lower priced smartphones have grown in popularity, while interest is up in browsing and the use of apps and services on mobile devices. Canalys expects slower smartphone growth this year, however.

Apple was the leading smartphone and client PC vendor in the fourth quarter, shipping 37 million iPhones, 15.4 million iPads and 5.2 million Macs. Apple’s smartphone shipments in the quarter beat Nokia’s previous single-quarter record of 28.3 million. That record was set in the fourth quarter of 2010.

In all of 2011, Apple shipped 93.1 million iPhones, a 96% increase over 2010, making it the leading smartpone vendor over Nokia for the first time.

Samsung shipped 35.3 million smartphones in the fourth quarter, for a total of 91.9 million for the year. That was up from 24.9 million in the last quarter of 2010.

Nokia shipped 19.6 million smartphones in the fourth quarter, down by 31% from the same quarter in 2010, but up 17% from the previous quarter. Overall, Nokia shipped 77.3 million smartphones in 2011, including 1.2 million Windows Phone devices in the last quarter of the year.

Nokia has partnered with Microsoft on Windows Phone smartphones and the coming Lumia 900 has improved Nokia’s outlook for 2012, Canalys said. Nokia has already released the Lumia 800 and 710.

Research in Motion finished fourth overall in smartphones globally for the year, with 51.4 million shipments, representing 5% growth in 2011. Canalys analyst Pete Cunningham noted, “there is no denying that RIM has had a tough year,” but noted that the company remains profitable and has appointed Thorsten Heins as its new CEO as RIM prepares BlackBerry 10 smartphones for roll-out this year.

For all of 2011, Canalys said Android smartphones comprised 48.8% of all smartphones shipped, totaling 237.8 million. Apple’s iPhone finished second with 19.1% of the market and Symbian from Nokia was third with 16.4%. BlackBerry finished fourth with 10.5% of the market.

The 487.7 million smartphones shipped was just shy of the half-billion mark many analysts had predicted.

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