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The smartphone’s on a roll: it’s stunting tablet growth, is the desktop next?

tablets

via Flickr © tribehut (CC BY-SA 2.0)

According to industry numbers guru, IDC, the smartphone continues to grab an ever-larger share of the total connected devices market and will continue on this track until at least 2019 when a full 73.4 per cent of the connected device ‘units’ will be smartphones. And that’s on top of total device growth from 1.8 billion units last year to 2.5 billion units by 2019. The main casualties are, of course, PCs, portables and, surprise, tablets.

Yep, tablets! The supposed next wave of connected devices (when launched by Jobs) is already on the wane, presumably in part because Phablets are on the climb and are elbowing out a few tablet purchases.

According to IDC the tablet and 2-in-1 segment (2-in-1s sport keyboards AND touch screens so can be used as both laptop and tablet) is already growing by only 4.5 per cent in contrast to the 27 per cent growth currently being notched up by smartphones. Ultimately, for more people in more places,” says Tom Mainelli, Program Vice President for Devices at IDC, “the smartphone is the clear choice in terms of owning one connected device. Even as we expect slowing smartphone growth later in the forecast, it's hard to overlook the dominant position smartphones play in the greater device ecosystem. And it's not likely that anything—including wearables—will unseat it from this dominant position anytime soon."

Worldwide Smart Connected Device Forecast Shipments, Market Share, Growth, and 5-Year CAGR (units in millions)

 

Category

2014

Shipment

Volume

2014

Market

Share

2014

YoY

Growth

2019

Shipment

Volume*

2019

Market

Share*

2019

YoY

Growth*

5-Year

CAGR

Smartphone

1,300.42

70.7%

27.7%

1,959.1

77.7%

4.6%

8.5%

Tablets plus 2-in-1

229.7

12.5%

4.5%

269.4

10.7%

2.6%

3.2%

Portable PC

174.28

9.5%

-2.3%

170.4

6.8%

-0.3%

-0.4%

Desktop PC

133.85

7.3%

-2.1%

121.0

4.8%

-1.0%

-2.0%

Total

1,838.26

100%

18.3%

2,520.0

100%

3.8%

6.5%

Source:  IDC Worldwide Quarterly Smart Connected Device Tracker, March 20, 2015

*forecast data

Part of the dynamic here is surely not just that people in developed markets increasingly use smartphones and have less use for PCs, laptops and tablets. It’s also that the smartie is and will prove adept at, more functions. Why have a tablet (extra expense, bulk, sync problems) if you can get a larger phablet device that will let you do the tablet task (media consumption) almost as well.  And we might see that process played out on the desktop - at least for some users.

Top end smartphones are powerful, yet highly distilled Linux computers.  In other words they have enough horsepower to do just about anything including their next stop on the price/performance curve - generating ‘heads-up displays’ and something approaching virtual reality.

So acting as a desktop (or laptop) computer should be a doddle. With a nip here and tuck there, smartphones can be harnessed to a keyboard and screen to enable their user to go ‘old school’ when the task demands it (try typing a long document or getting to grips with a spreadsheet on a phablet).

Corporate-wide, lots of advantages accrue - one set of apps and connections managed on a single personal device; hot-desking easier (each desk could have a standard keyboard, screen and docking unit any employee wielding his/her smartphone can use). In short if you have to have a computer to browse the web, perform local applications and so on, it should be possible to squash that function into your smartphone.

Many attempts have been made on this application for the last six years (and possibly longer) but nothing has really taken off.  

There are a few Kickstarter-style projects under way of course. These tend to focus on big screen use in the home. One is called Andromium Computing Platform which provides a dock that turns an Android phone into a computer with a desktop-like user interface.

Another, Tinystick, is similar, this time on a USB-sized adaptor.

In fact this approach has a long history: Samsung did the Smartdock way back in 2012 for the Galaxy and is still doing it. I seem to remember Ubuntu for Android which apparently works fine but, after all, is Ubuntu so hardly going to hit the big time.

All in all, there is and have been a plethora of products and projects of this kind which sort of work but didn't set the world on fire. Now, with Google working on crossover Android apps for its Chrome OS, perhaps the time is soon coming when the ad saying ‘Turn your smartphone into a desktop computer’ won’t sound too far-fetched.

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