Mobile devices overtake computers on Wi-Fi networks

Mobile devices, led by the iPad (s AAPL) and Android (s GOOG) phones and tablets, have overtaken computers on Wi-Fi networks, according to a new report from cloud networking provider Meraki. It’s another sign that mobile is increasingly the way people access the Internet, bypassing traditional computers in their hunt for information.

Meraki said that in 2010, Windows (s MSFT) and Mac OS X accounted for 64 percent of devices that accessed Wi-Fi networks, while iOS (the iPhone and the iPod touch at the time) accounted for 32 percent and Android was just 1 percent. A year later, iOS — bolstered by the iPad — and Android now represent 58 percent of Wi-Fi devices, while Windows and Mac OS X account for 36 percent. The numbers have gone up since March, when Om got some Wi-Fi usage statistics from Meraki, which found that the iPhone accounted for 23.5 percent of connections, while Android had 5.2 percent and the iPad took 3.4 percent.

Meraki said for the most recent study, it surveyed more than 100,000 devices accessing general use, public and educational Wi-Fi networks across the U.S., looking at usage and operating systems from 2010 to 2011. The study compared the first half of 2010 with the first half of this year.

The iPhone was the most popular device on Wi-Fi networks, with a 32-percent share. Android now accounts for 11 percent of devices on Meraki’s networks, equal to the iPod touch alone. Those numbers will certainly increase for Android as its installed base grows. Meraki also found that the iPad was a power device, consuming almost 200 megabytes per month, about four times as much as the average for Android, iPhone and iPod touch devices.

The numbers shouldn’t be too surprising considering we’re at a point where mobile devices are in the process of overtaking computer sales. And with many public Wi-Fi spots, it’s more practical to browse with a mobile device than a laptop. Kiren Sekar, director of marketing at Meraki, said the number of computers that hit Wi-Fi networks continues to grow, but the pace of mobile device growth has been much higher.

“Smartphones and tablets are so much more mobile than laptops; the idea of someone pulling out a laptop in a store to check email, Facebook or prices — it’s very impractical,” said Sekar. “What we’re seeing with these mobile devices is it’s practical and enjoyable to do that.”

This was going to happen at some point, but the quick pace with which mobile devices have taken over is impressive. More than half of mobile phones sold this year in the U.S. are expected to be smartphones; add in tablets, Wi-Fi enabled media players, gaming devices and connected cameras, and it’s clear that the way people use the Internet is shifting dramatically.

It’s also another reminder that content owners and publishers should be preparing for more people using mobile devices to consume their content. Right now, many sites are still not optimized for mobile, which can be a lost monetization opportunity. Make no mistake; the world is turning mobile, and it’s happening right now. Better to get with the program than get left behind.