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Smartphone growth to slow in 2014: IDC

Despite strong 2013, era of high margins may be over; single-digit expansion by 2017

IDC expects smartphone shipments to keep growing, but at a decelerated rate.
IDC expects smartphone shipments to keep growing, but at a decelerated rate.

Worldwide smartphone shipments will slow to 8.3% annual growth in 2017 and 6.2% in 2018, according to a new mobile phone forecast from the International Data Corporation (IDC) Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker.

Annual smartphone volume in 2013 surpassed 1bn units for the first time, accounting for 39.2% growth over 2012. In the coming year, IDC expects mature markets like North America and Europe to drop to single digits, and Japan might contract slightly.

Despite the high growth expected in many emerging markets, 2014 will mark the year smartphone growth drops more significantly than ever before. 2014 volumes are expected to be 1.2bn, up from 1bn in 2013, representing 19.3% year-over-year growth.

"In North America we see more than 200m smartphones in active use, not to mention the number of feature phones still being used," said Ryan Reith, programme director with IDC's Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker.

"2014 will be an enormous transition year for the smartphone market. Not only will growth decline more than ever before, but the driving forces behind smartphone adoption are changing. New markets for growth bring different rules to play by and 'premium' will not be a major factor in the regions driving overall market growth."

As mature markets become saturated and worldwide growth slows, service providers and device manufacturers are seeking opportunities to move hardware wherever they can. The result is rapidly declining price points, creating challenging environments in which to turn a profit. Worldwide smartphone average selling price (ASP) was $335 in 2013, and is expected to drop to $260 by 2018.

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"In order to reach the untapped demand within emerging markets, carriers and OEMs will need to work together to bring prices down," said Ramon Llamas, research manager with IDC's Mobile Phone team.

"Last year we saw a total of 322.5m smartphone units ship for under $150 and that number will continue to grow going forward. We've already seen numerous smartphone announcements targeting this price band this year, with some as low as $25. Just as the dynamics have changed for overall smartphone growth, so have the dynamics for smartphone pricing in the markets where continued growth is expected. Not all vendors will want to get into this space, but those that do must make deliberate choices about their strategies in order to succeed."

Android will maintain its reign as the leading operating system throughout IDC's forecast. With a strong presence within emerging markets and attainable price points for both vendors and customers, IDC expects both a commanding market share as well as prices below the industry average. What remains to be seen is which vendors will win the contest within emerging markets, as many local vendors have gained share last year.

Apple's iOS will remain the clear number-two platform behind Android and will have the highest ASPs among the leading platforms. Apple has maintained a tight focus on the high end of the market with its most current devices, a trend IDC expects to see continue into the future. This could keep iOS from realising greater volumes within emerging markets, but sales in mature markets will offset much of the difference.

Windows Phone stands to grow the fastest among the leading smartphone operating systems, with continued support from Nokia as well as the addition of nine new Windows Phone partners. Most of these new vendors come from emerging markets and could help bring the Windows Phone experience to customers there.

IDC has taken a conservative stance on BlackBerry's future. The company's recent moves to shore up its presence with government and enterprise users as well as its strongholds within emerging markets will be under constant attack from the competition. However, its higher-than-average prices compared to other platforms could inhibit its growth potential.