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Has mobile already passed desktop?

Back in 2010, Morgan Stanley’s predicted that ‘Mobile Will Be Bigger Than Desktop Internet in 5 Years’, which seemed a bullish prediction to some at the time – but was it bullish enough? At about the same time, Gartner forecast that: ‘Mobile phones will overtake PCs as the most common web access devices worldwide by 2013, a more aggressive forecast. By one measure at least, however, it looks as if even Gartner’s forecast may have been too conservative.

According to figures from IDC quoted on the SmartOnline blog smartphones outsold PCs for the first time in Q4 2010, an inflection point predicted not to happen by Morgan Stanley until 2012.

Woman using mobile phone

Mobile internet beats predictions by two years

These figures have a lot to say about the rapid pace of adoption in mobile, especially when you factor in that they exclude other mobile devices – including the Kindle and ‘the fastest selling gadget ever’, the iPad. Some 29% of US adults now own a tablet or an e-reader.

In terms of actual traffic volumes – which is not the same thing as units shipped – mobile represents 10% globally, according to ex-Morgan Stanley analyst Mary Meeker. But among the BRIC countries, progress is faster: mobile internet usage has now passed desktop internet usage in India.

Is the desktop dead?

Mobile versus desktop - web site codes on computer monitor ar office

So will desktop eventually die all together? Almost certainly not. We can watch movies on our phones now, but we still go to the cinema when we want the true, immersive experience – or just for the smell of the popcorn. Most types of concentrated work – writing, researching, designing – call for a static workspace, expanded visual display and the ability to type extended text with tying your fingers in knots.

What’s certain in the medium term is that we face a mixed future, with learning and communications materials having to address an expanded range of access devices. The ability to reflow content dynamically through responsive design is going to be a key capability for L&D departments looking to avoid having to rebuild learning programmes afresh for each new device. LINE’s mobile content framework (MCF) takes advantage of this technology. At the same time, certain types of programme, especially in the performance support space, will definitely need to be apps, making the most of devices’ native functionality and the particular virtues of just-in-time learning. LINE has a practical solution for this route too, with its LINEstream platform.


Technology futures are always unpredictable, and the pace of change, especially, difficult to call. One thing that does see to emerge very clearly from looking at the figures, however, is that the pace of change in mobile at the moment is outstripping even the most bullish analyst predictions.

This post first appeared on the LINE blog on 5th September 2012.