Latin America driver of global smartphone growth in 2014

Market researcher GfK has released its global smartphone sales numbers for 2014 and they reveal Latin America and emerging APAC (all APAC bar China and developed APAC) were the fastest growing smartphone regions.

GfK uses point-of-sale terminals at retailers to track sales data (sales out of the channel), as opposed to analyst houses like Strategy Analytics and IDC who use shipment data (sales into the channel). This can lead to some discrepancy in the numbers, although you would expect them to even out over time, and all such data tracking involves a degree of modelling and educated guess-work.

Total global smartphone sales of 1.228 billion claimed by GfK is a bit lower than Strategy Analytics’ total of 1.283 billion, and while analysts tend to publish the global top ten vendors, GfK prefers to go into greater geographical detail.

The 2014 full year numbers indicate Latin America (which typically includes Central America and the Caribbean) exhibited the greatest increase in both volume growth (+59% year-on-year) and value growth (52%). Emerging APAC also had strong volume growth of 55% but value growth was only 27%, indicating a greater proportion of lower priced devices sold.

GfK SP 2

Among more mature economies North America had surprisingly high volume growth, although again lower value growth implies a declining average selling price (ASP), but China and developed APAC (Australia, Hong Kong, Japan, Macau, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan) seem to have peaked, according to GfK’s numbers. This jars slightly with reports of booming sales in China from Apple, not to mention the success of companies like Xiaomi and Lenovo. The Q4 2014 numbers show zero unit growth in China but 21% value growth, which would seem to concur with Apple’s experience and which GfK also attributes to the trend towards larger devices.

GfK SP 1

“The increase in the value of units sold in China, despite the recent plateauing of unit sales, is due to consumers’ rapid adoption of higher priced smartphones with larger screen sizes,” said Kevin Walsh, Director of Trends and Forecasting at GfK. “This is a trend seen in most markets and GfK global data shows that the 5 to 5.6 inch segment grew by more than 130 percent year-on-year in the last quarter of 2014 and by nearly 150 percent in the full year. In 2015, we forecast this segment to become the dominant screen size band, surpassing 4 to 4.5 inch for the first time.

“The slowdown forecast for 2015 is due to developed markets reaching saturation point. As a result, global smartphone unit growth will be only 14 percent this year, down from 23 percent in 2014. We forecast emerging regions to drive growth in 2015 as smartphones further penetrate lower price points. GfK forecasts that smartphone price bands above $150 will see a decline in their market share. At the next level down, $100-150, sales will remain stable, but it is the cheaper smartphones priced below this point that will gain share.”

Walsh seems to think emerging APAC and Middle East & Africa will out-grow Latin America in 2015. The stated reason is there is still plenty of spare capacity for upgrades from feature phones in those regions and the inference being that Latin America’s transition to the smartphone is now largely complete.

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