Computers Play Second Fiddle To Mobile Devices On Wi-Fi Networks

Brad Chacos

Little brothers are like your own portable punching bag: name calling, insulting and rubbing your smaller sibling's face in the dirt are all typical big brother pastimes. As any bigger brother can tell you, though, it sucks when your little brother gets big enough to fight back and punch you in the eye. The days of us big brother PC-types mocking younger technologies like smartphones and tablets may be coming to an end if a recent report is any indication: more people access Wi-Fi Internet using mobile devices than traditional computers.

"Well, duh," you might be thinking, but GigaOm says it's actually the first time it's ever happened, citing a report from cloud networking provider Meraki. In 2010, desktop operating systems like Windows and OS X accounted for the lion's share of the market, claiming 64 percent of the total Wi-Fi pie. Android devices and the iOS devices combined only accounted for a third of all Wi-Fi access.

Those numbers shifted gigantically in 2011. Wi-Fi usage for Mac OS X, Windows 7/Vista and XP all fell roughly 50 percent apiece, to a cumulative total of 36 percent for desktop operating systems. Google and Apple were all too happy to pick up what the desktops dropped: every mobile device in the study saw decent usage gains. Now, mobile OS's can call themselves king of the Wi-Fi roost, sitting atop a healthy 58 percent chunk of the market. The iPhone alone accounts for almost a third of all Wi-Fi usage.

Before you think the traditional PC's sky is falling, realize the limitations of the report: Meraki's study took place in restaurants and only covered about 100,000 devices, a small fraction of the total number of devices connecting to the Internet via Wi-Fi. There's no reason to think those numbers wouldn't scale up, though. Plus, traditional desktop PCs are unaccounted for, since people rarely drag their rigs down to Burger King. If anything, we think Meraki's report suggests that users are ditching laptops in favor of smaller tablets and smartphones, and what's wrong with that? We keep a smartphone in our pocket, too.

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