The Smartphone vs. PC war around the world

OK, this is a bit much to take in all in one go so maybe it’s best to play it once first and then play it again while tracking one or two particular countries afterwards. Either that or click on the ‘Explore Data‘ link and delve a bit deeper into it yourself.

Note: Make sure to actually click the ‘Play‘ button in the bottom left-hand corner to watch the action unfold.

So smartphones are basically taking over the world, that’s not really up for debate. But what has happened to the humble PC and how has it been affected by the explosion in smartphone usage over the last few years?

Luckily, this animated graph from the good folks at TNS Infratest, based on the Global Connected Consumer Survey, is here to shed some light on this dynamic. The graph plots PC usage versus smartphone usage in particular countries over the three year period from March 2011 to March 2014 to get a better idea of the  recent shift from desktop to mobile.

The most obvious trend to notice is of course the explosion in smartphone usage in most countries (i.e. the trails of colour moving upwards on the Y-axis over time). Even though there is a clear contrast between (1) developing countries with both high smartphone and PC usage (those in the top-right of the graph) and (2) emerging countries with relatively low smartphone and PC usage (those in the bottom-left of the graph), smartphone usage has generally increased significantly across the board.

In developed countries; smartphone usage grows but PC usage remains stable

While it’s obvious to see that smartphone usage has increased significantly in most developed countries, perhaps surprisingly, PC usage hasn’t really been affected here (i.e. the lack of trails of colour moving significantly from right-to-left over time).

The key takeaway from this is that, while people in developed countries are using smartphones far more than they were three years ago, they are using desktop PCs almost the same amount as before. The explosion in ‘usage’ has been in internet usage in general, with mobile responsible for this.

In emerging countries; smartphones are replacing PCs

In contrast, in emerging countries  like India, Saudi Arabia and Thailand, PC usage has fallen off a cliff in the last three years. This would suggest that, as smartphones get cheaper and more powerful, they are becoming a viable alternative to a PC for these people, opening up the internet and email to them, which they could have only accessed via a PC just a few years ago.

While the PC is not exactly dead in the water just yet, there’s no doubt that mobile is eating the web, especially in emerging countries. In the not-too-distant future we will likely see see desktop and laptop computers virtually disappear in the home at least, being replaced by smartphones and tablets. This has already happened across many developed countries and for the remaining laggards, the next time the desktop / laptop purchase cycle comes around, you can be damn sure that most will opt for a tablet instead, further compounding this trend.

In the workplace things might be a little different with many complaining that you can’t get any real work done on a mobile or tablet so expect to see the PC become almost exclusively a commercial tool in the next few years, much like it was in the 1980’s.