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Smartphone shipments to overtake feature phones for the first time

2013 will mark the first year in which more smartphones are sold than feature phones, according to forecasts from IDC

The number of smartphones shipped in 2013 will outnumber the number of feature phones for the first time, according to IDC.

The research firm’s Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker forecasts that device manufacturers will ship 918.6 million smartphones this year; 50.1 per cent of the total mobile phone shipments worldwide.

The research firm believes that the shift in demand comes as a result of smartphone prices falling globally and the rollout of LTE networks making such devices increasingly attractive.

By the end of 2017, 1.5 billion smartphones, representing two-thirds of all handsets, will be shipped worldwide, according to IDC’s forecasts.

While much of the world’s demand for smartphones had been from mature markets, such as the US, emerging markets are beginning to catch up. Smartphone demand is burgeoning in China, Brazil and India, and these countries will comprise a growing percentage of those shipped in each year of the forecast period, the research firm stated.

China, which displaced the US last year as the global leader in smartphone shipments, is at the forefront of this shift. It 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, according to Melissa Chau, senior research manager for IDC Asia/Pacific.

“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 continue 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,” she said.

“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.”

In fact, India’s year-over-year smartphone shipment growth will be the highest among the top countries by a wide margin as the vast majority of the country’s wireless subscriber base currently use feature phones, the firm said.

Brazil is another market where smartphone growth will remain high over the course of the forecast. The country’s smartphone market is rising, driven by a confluence of circumstances, such as tax breaks for vendors that create jobs via local mobile phone production, IDC stated.

Wireless service providers are also offering greater subsidies to drive smartphone sales with an eye on higher data revenue streams in the future. The successful rollout of Long-Term Evolution (LTE) networks in Brazil is key to the country’s smartphone market growth, according to Bruno Freitas, consumer devices research manager at IDC Brazil.

“Brazilians have yet to turn in their feature phones for smartphones on a wholesale basis,” he said. “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.”

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