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For the first time, smartphones outsell PCs

A number of technology pundits have claimed that smartphones are the future of computing. But according to data released yesterday, that future may already be here.

Research firm IDC reported that for the first time ever smartphones actually outsold PCs in the fourth quarter of 2010. Both devices saw increased sales over the same quarter in 2009, but smartphones experienced huge growth, while the increase in sales of PCs was much more modest.

Smartphone vendors shipped 100.9 million devices in this last quarter, an 87.2 percent increase over 2009. PC shipments increased by 5.5 percent. Analysts blame the relatively poor PC performance on competing devices such as the iPad, as well as consumers becoming more “cautious” about computers in general.

Regardless of the PC’s performance, the huge increase in smartphone sales is unlikely to be a one-off occurrence. A huge backlog of traditional cell phone owners are starting to upgrade to smartphones as their current service agreements run out, and existing smartphone owners are clamoring for the latest models.

While Android phones led the way in the U.S. in the second-half of the year, Apple is expected to fight back strongly in 2011. Verizon begins offering the iPhone 4 this week and a new iPhone is rumored to be on stream for the summer. RIM (BlackBerry) and Microsoft (Windows phones) won’t be giving up the fight, and dozens of more affordable mid-range and low-end smartphones will also draw in a wide audience.

And it’s not just smartphones that are putting pressure on the PC. Apple has sold 14 million iPads since its release in April, and more than a dozen high-profile competitors – along with an upgraded iPad 2 – are expected to hit the stores before the end of the year.

While the PC industry plans to fight back with a new generation of all-in-one touch screen devices, they face an uphill battle. Consumers are becoming accustomed to a world where small is not just beautiful, but powerful and affordable as well.    

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