Skip to Content

Smartphones Are Eating the World

The spread of mobile computers, in numbers.

Smartphones have created a bridge between two previously separate industries—wireless networks and personal computing. For Internet firms and device makers, this means access to the world’s largest network of people. As can be seen above, the wireless telephone business is large compared to personal computing. In 2012, the world’s mobile operators did $1.2 trillion in business and served around 3.2 billion people, versus perhaps 1.7 billion people who used PCs to access the Internet. By comparison, the combined revenue of Microsoft, Google, Intel, Apple, and the entire global PC industry was $590 billion. Online advertising, the main driver of the consumer Internet, generated only $89 billion in revenue.

global revenue 2012 infographic
number of devices in use infographic
global units sold 2012 infographic

PCs still represent a majority of personal computing devices in use globally. But not for long. As smartphone and tablet sales increase rapidly, they are replacing PCs and Microsoft Windows as the dominant personal-computing paradigm. At right are the number of PCs, tablets, smartphones, and all mobile phone handsets in use, as well as the number of each sold in 2012. Growth in smartphone sales are coming largely at the expense of older-style “feature phones,” as people replace them, typically once every two years. As can be seen, two-thirds of the mobile phone market has yet to convert to smartphones. Close to a billion smartphones will be sold in 2013, while PC sales will gradually decline.

revenue infographic

Smartphones have greatly increased the profitability of the mobile phone handset business. The average selling price of all mobile phones rose from about $105 in 2010 to $180 at the end of 2012, largely driven by Apple’s iPhone. In 2012, Apple sold 136 million iPhones for $85 billion, averaging $629 per phone. By comparison, the average selling price of a PC is about $700. With a further $33 billion in revenue from iPads, Apple’s annual revenue now exceeds the combined business of Intel and Microsoft. Sales by other companies of Android smartphones (not shown) reached 480 million units in 2012, generating an estimated $120 billion in revenue at an average selling price of $250.

Keep Reading

Most Popular

mouse engineered to grow human hair
mouse engineered to grow human hair

Going bald? Lab-grown hair cells could be on the way

These biotech companies are reprogramming cells to treat baldness, but it’s still early days.

Death and Jeff Bezos
Death and Jeff Bezos

Meet Altos Labs, Silicon Valley’s latest wild bet on living forever

Funders of a deep-pocketed new "rejuvenation" startup are said to include Jeff Bezos and Yuri Milner.

ai learning to multitask concept
ai learning to multitask concept

Meta’s new learning algorithm can teach AI to multi-task

The single technique for teaching neural networks multiple skills is a step towards general-purpose AI.

conceptual illustration showing various women's faces being scanned
conceptual illustration showing various women's faces being scanned

A horrifying new AI app swaps women into porn videos with a click

Deepfake researchers have long feared the day this would arrive.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose WongIllustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.