There will soon be more smart devices on Earth than people

iPhone 12
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The number of PCs, smartphones, and tablets in use around the world is set to increase to 6.2 billion in 2021, boosted by the shift towards remote working.

Gartner predicts that there will be 125 million more devices in use next year than this year, with the desire for more flexible form factors fuelling a recovery in the smartphone market while also accelerating the long-term decline of desktop PCs.

Looking further forwards, these trends will see the figure reach 6.4 billion by 2022.

Worldwide devices

The smartphone sector had been hit by the pandemic due to economic and production challenges that had caused supply issues and lowered demand. The number of smartphones in use fell by 2.6% to 4.29 billion during 2020, but the global install base is set to rise to 4.32 billion next year, and 4.45 billion in 2022.

The integration of personal and business lives, the greater availability of 5G handsets, and a general return of consumer confidence are all contributory factors to the increase.

“Connectivity is already a pain-point for many users who are working remotely. But as mobility returns to the workforce, the need to equip employees able to work anywhere with the right tools, will be crucial,” said Ranjit Atwal, senior research director at Gartner. “Demand for connected 4G/5G laptops and other devices will rise as business justification increases.”

However, the closure of offices has seen the number of desktop PCs in use fall significantly from 552 million in 2019 to 522 million last year. Even once the pandemic is over, many businesses will adopt long-term flexible or hybrid working practices that will reduce demand even further. Gartner predicts there will 495 million desk-based PCs in 2021 and 470 million in 2022. Meanwhile, the number of laptops and tablets will increase by 8.8% and 11.7%.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has permanently changed device usage patterns of employees and consumers,” added Atwal. “With remote work turning into hybrid work, home education changing into digital education and interactive gaming moving to the cloud, both the types and number of devices people need, have and use will continue to rise.”

Steve McCaskill is TechRadar Pro's resident mobile industry expert, covering all aspects of the UK and global news, from operators to service providers and everything in between. He is a former editor of Silicon UK and journalist with over a decade's experience in the technology industry, writing about technology, in particular, telecoms, mobile and sports tech, sports, video games and media.