Smartphones to overtake feature phones in 2013, IDC predicts

4 Mar 2013

For the first time smartphones will this year surpass feature phones in terms of the number of units shipped, IDC forecast today. Some 918.6m smartphones are expected to ship this year – 50.1pc of the total mobile phones shipped.

According to IDC, smartphone prices have fallen globally, the smartphone strata are wider than ever, and the rollout of data-centric fourth-generation (4G) wireless networks are three factors that have made these “do-it-all” devices an increasingly attractive option for users.

By the end of 2017, IDC forecasts 1.5bn smartphones will be shipped worldwide, which equates to just over two-thirds of the total mobile phone forecast for the year due to these primary factors.

The balance of smartphone demand is gradually shifting, however, to emerging markets where smartphone user bases are still relatively small and economic prospects are considerably higher.

Smartphone shipments to China, Brazil, and India will comprise a growing percentage of the device type’s volume in each forecast year.

The shifting landscape for smartphones


Smartphone demand is burgeoning in these large, populous nations as their respective economies have grown; this has made for a larger middle class that is prepared to buy smartphones. China, which supplanted the US last year as the global leader in smartphone shipments, is at the forefront of this shift.

“While we don’t expect China’s smartphone growth to maintain the pace of a runaway train as it has over the last two years, there continues to be big drivers to keep the market growing as it leads the way to ever-lower smartphone prices and the country’s transition to 4G networks is only just beginning,” said Melissa Chau, senior research manager for IDC Asia Pacific.

“Even as China starts to mature, there remains enormous untapped potential in other emerging markets, like India, where we expect less than half of all phones shipped there to be smartphones by 2017, and yet it will weigh in as the world’s third largest market.”

Brazil is another market where smartphone growth will remain high over the course of the forecast as its economic fortunes improve.

“Brazilians have yet to turn in their feature phones for smartphones on a wholesale basis,” said Bruno Freitas, consumer devices research manager at IDC Brazil.

“The smartphone tide is turning in Brazil, though, as wireless service providers and the government have laid the groundwork for a strong smartphone foundation that mobile phone manufacturers can build upon,” Freitas said.

China will easily remain the world’s largest market for smartphones, specifically low-cost handsets based on the Android operating system and to a lesser degree iOS. While shipment volume to the country will remain at the top, growth will slow towards the end of the forecast period. Also, smartphone prices are expected to fall amid increased competition. Consequently, China’s share of the global smartphone market will be diluted somewhat as more smartphones are shipped to India, Brazil, and other emerging markets.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years