Do we now have statistical evidence that we've entered the post-PC era? A new report from The NPD Group finds that, for the first time, the combined total of connected smartphones and tablets exceeds the installed base of connected computers in American homes.
The study, the Connected Intelligence Connected Home Report, confirmed that, even with the huge growth in mobile devices, PCs are still the largest installed base of connected devices if phones and tablets are considered as separate categories. John Buffone, director of devices at NPD, noted that "this is a fact that won't be changing any time soon."
But the huge growth rate for mobile devices combined, and the current stats about their installed base in U.S. homes, show that the numerical balance has shifted to mobile devices.
NPD found that there are now over half a billion devices total in American homes that are connected to the Internet and that run apps. On average, this means 5.7 connected devices for each U.S. connected household, compared with 5.3 devices only three months ago. In that quarter-year timespan, from fourth quarter of last year to 2013's first quarter, tablets' installed base increased by almost 18 million units and smartphones by about 9 million. By contrast, the number of PCs in those three months remained nearly the same.
'Only a Matter of Time'
Over the same three months, smartphone penetration in U.S. connected homes inched up from 52 percent to 57 percent of cell phone users, while tablet penetration shot up to 53 percent from 35 percent of Net households.
Virtually every U.S. connected household has a Net-linked computer, according to the report, with 93 percent penetration. But Reticle Research's Ross Rubin points out that, in emerging countries, smartphones are and will continue to be the "primary or only connected device."
He added that, given the "sales numbers that smartphones and tablets have had over the past two years, it was only a matter of time" before they would begin to have a larger installed base than computers.
But, Rubin said, there are a few considerations in this comparison. For one, "tablets and smartphones are inherently connected," while there are undoubtedly still some home PCs which are not. While the unconnected PCs wouldn't count in NPD's figures, they could satisfy a family's need for some computing functions, such as word processing or offline games.
Apples and Oranges?
He also noted that the purchase price of smartphones and tablets is often cheaper than that of many computers. Although there are some cheap computers and expensive tablets that flip that comparison, more common pricing means that smartphones and tablets are more personal, more one-to-one with consumers, while home computers are often shared.
Another apples-to-oranges aspect of this comparison, Rubin said, is that smartphones in particular are "incapable of doing the range of productivity tasks that computers can do," while tablets are getting closer but are still considered more consumption than productivity devices. In other words, if smartphones and tablets represent the post-PC era, it could be one in which the larger number of computing tools have lesser capabilities as productivity tools.
The NPD report surveyed more than 4,000 consumers in the U.S., aged 18 and older, during the first quarter of this year.