Almost 2.4 billion computers, tablets and cellphones will ship this year, according to estimates from Gartner.
That's a jump of nine percent on 2012 and—if Gartner's figures are correct—the industry has plenty more growth ahead. By 2017, Gartner expects just under 3 billion of the devices to ship.
The figures, released last week, provide a stunning snapshot of our planet's love affair with computing gadgets, and gizmos and go some way to explaining why there's so much competition and so many lawsuits in the industry—with that many sales, the potential riches for the market leaders are considerable.
Gartner's forecast didn't attempt to predict market share among device makers, but did point to the growing importance of the Android operating system and tablet devices.
Android is already the most dominant operating system and is expected to solidify its position this year, when roughly 861 million of the 2.4 billion devices expected to be shipped will run the OS. Microsoft's Windows is predicted in second place at 354 million and Apple's OS X and iOS combined in third at 293 million devices. RIM's BlackBerry OS will account for 31 million devices.
But while Android is expected to continue this dominance, it comes with an important caveat. Different flavors of the OS are used on high- and low-end smartphones and customized versions can be found on products like Amazon's Kindle, so there's not a single, common platform.
"It has a lot of users, but they are not all contributing to Google's bottom line," said Carolina Milanesi, a Gartner analyst. "That's one of the problems it has and I think is behind the recent executive changes [at Google]."
Some of Android's gains are coming as a result of fast-growing sales of non-brand tablet computers in emerging markets, said Milanesi. While Apple remains strong in places like the U.S. and Europe, Android tablets are doing very well in countries like Russia and China, she said.
That's partly because many consumers in developing countries get their first experience of computing through a smartphone. When they want something bigger, they gravitate towards tablets because they offer an interface that they are already familiar with from their phones, unlike laptop or desktop PCs.
For that reason, shipments of traditional desktop and laptop PCs are expected to keep falling from 315 million this year to 272 million by 2017, Gartner said. The one bright spot in the market is ultramobiles, which are defined by Gartner as thin-and-light devices that are a hybrid tablet running an Intel chip, like Microsoft's Surface Pro. Ultramobile shipments will be 24 million this year rising to 96 million in 2017, Gartner predicted.