For a while now we’ve had a chart in our presentation decks about the point at which mobile access to the internet passes desktop. But has this point already been reached?
Back in 2010, Morgan Stanley’s prediction was that ‘Mobile Will Be Bigger Than Desktop Internet in 5 Years’. At about the same time, Gartner forecast that: ‘Mobile phones will overtake PCs as the most common Web access devices worldwide by 2013.
With two quarters of 2012 behind us, it’s worth looking at how those predictions are shaping up, and by one measure at least it looks as if even Gartner’s more aggressive forecast may already have been proven too conservative.
According to figures from IDC (quoted on the SmartOnline blog) smartphones outsold PCs for the first time in Quarter Four 2010, an inflection point predicted not to happen by Morgan Stanley’s Mary Meeker until 2012.
Mobile internet beats predictions by two years
Of course, units shipped is not the same thing as units in circulation, and this figure does not include all those desktops still in use (and likely to remain so for some years). But the fact that this specific inflection point was reached two years ahead of prediction has to say something about the rapid pace of adoption, bearing in mind that the figures also exclude other mobile devices – including the Kindle and the fastest selling gadget ever, on its launch, the iPad. Some 29% of US adults now own a tablet or an e-reader.
When it comes actual to traffic volumes, mobile represents 10% globally, according to the most recent internet stats from Mary Meeker (who has since left Morgan Stanley for Kleiner Perkins Caulfield Byers). However this figure rises spectacularly among the BRIC countries, to the extent that mobile internet usage has now passed desktop internet usage in India.
Is the desktop dead?
So are we seeing the death of the desktop? Looking at page views might lead you to conclude there’s a fair bit of life in the old dog yet. Worldwide, these grew from less than 1% to 8.49% between 2009 and 2012, hardly a hockey stick curve. Surprise surprise, people look at less web pages on mobile devices. At this rate it would take quite a long time before desktop really began to look dead. Apparently we face a mixed future, with publishers needing to optimise their products for all devices.
Having said all that, look at the page view figures for India on the interactive graph I link to in the previous paragraph: now you see a startlingly different picture, with desktop and mobile page views very close to achieving parity. Not only do we face a burgeoning diversity in delivery devices for publisher products, it seems, but geographical markets are likely to behave differently as well.
The truth is, nobody really knows what’s going to happen. One thing that does emerge clearly from this exercise however is that the pace of change in mobile is even faster than the smart people at analyst companies thought.