The number of smartphones shipped surpassed the number of client PCs in 2011, according to analyst firm Canalys, which found that 488 million smartphones were shipped during the year, compared to 415 million PCs.

During the fourth quarter of 2011, 158.5 million smartphones were shipped, up 57 percent on the 101.2 million units during the same quarter a year previously. The number of smartphones shipped for the year as a whole was up 63 percent compared to the 300 million in 2010.

In comparison, the global PC market grew by just 15 percent in 2011. Shipments for pad (tablet) computers showed the only significant growth, increasing by 274 percent and accounting for 15 percent of client PC shipments.

“Smartphone shipments overtaking those of client PCs should be seen as a significant milestone. In the space of a few years, smartphones have grown from being a niche product segment at the high-end of the mobile phone market to becoming a truly mass-market proposition,” said Canalys VP and principal analyst Chris Jones.

The growth in smartphones was partly fuelled by falling prices but also the increasing consumer demand for internet browsing, content consumption and apps, Jones added.

Canalys forecasts the growth in smartphones will slow in 2012 as handset manufacturers implement tight cost control and focus more on profitability. Vendors such as Huawei, LG and Huawei, who have until now focused on the lower end of market, are looking at selling higher-end devices to increase margins.