It’s not your imagination; smartphones really are everywhere

Take a quick look around — in a queue at a cafe, in the movie theater during the film previews, riding public transit — and it’s obvious that mobile devices are more ubiquitous and popular than ever before. It turns out our collective addiction to smartphones has been good news for businesses other than eyeglass purveyors; it’s also a major growth driver for the consumer electronics industry at large.

According to data released Monday by the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), the consumer electronics (CE) industry is on track to surpass $190 billion in overall shipment revenues this year, an increase of 5.6 percent over 2010. That’s more than double the projected United States GDP 2011 growth rate of 2.4 percent. Back in January, the CEA projected that the consumer electronics industry would grow 3.5 percent this year. The primary driver of that blockbuster growth will be smartphones, the CEA says. Smartphone unit sales are set to grow a whopping 45 percent in 2011, climbing to revenue of more than$23 billion.

But that’s not to say that every sector is on such a tear. Since 88 percent of U.S. households own at least one digital television, sales of digital displays are expected to decline this year, the CEA says. But network-enabled displays and 3-D displays are still expected to be growth segments in 2011.

Ultimately, mobile devices have had at least one major impact on the CE industry: They’ve continued to expand how the general public thinks about computers. In the 1970s, an IBM (s IBM) executive famously asked, “Why would anyone want to take a computer home with them?” Smartphones have proven that not only do people want computers at home; they want them on the go, as well. In recent years, the number of computing devices we each seem to “need” has multiplied rapidly. For now, it looks like the consumer electronics saturation point is nowhere in sight.