IDC expects smartphones to outship feature phones in 2013

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IDC, a market intelligence company and provider of regular data on smartphone shipments, expects smartphone devices to outship feature phones for the first time this year. Data from IDC's Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker projects that manufacturers will ship 918.6 million smartphones this year, representing 50.1% of the total mobile phone shipments worldwide.

The top 5 markets in 2013 will be China (301.2 million), followed by the USA (137.5 million), the UK (35.5 million), Japan (35.2 million), Brazil (28.9 million) and India (27.8 million). IDC expects the smartphone market to continue to grow and forecasts that in 2017 1.5 billion smartphones will be shipped worldwide.

IDC notes that the growth is being driven by a falling prices, a wider smartphone strata (bigger addressable market), and the roll out of data-centric 4G networks. The company further notes that much of the future growth in smartphone shipments will come from emerging economies:

To date, much of the world's smartphone shipments were a direct result of demand in mature economies such as the U.S. 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. 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 U.S. last year as the global leader in smartphone shipments, is at the forefront of this shift.

IDC says China has seen growth with the "pace of a run away train" in the last two years, and while this is expected to slow somewhat, there "remains enormous untapped potential in other other emerging markets like India".

In its press release IDC draws a contrast between emerging markets (China, Brazil, India) and the more mature markets (USA and UK). In the latter growth has slowed, but the operating system landscape is "constantly shifting", indicative of a highly dynamic and competitive market.

Top Five Countries Smartphone Shipments and Market Share, 2013 and 2017 (Units in Millions) 

Country* 2013 Unit Shipments 2013 Market Share 2017 Unit Shipments 2017 Market Share 2017/2013 Growth
1. China 301.2 32.8% 457.9 30.2% 52.0%
2. USA 137.5 15.0% 183.0 12.1% 33.1%
3. United Kingdom 35.5 3.9% 47.5 3.1% 33.8%
4. Japan 35.2 3.8% 37.7 2.5% 7.1%
5. Brazil 28.9 3.1% 66.3 4.4% 129.4%
6. India 27.8 3.0% 155.6 10.3% 459.7%
Others 352.5 38.4% 568.1 37.5% 61.2%
Total 918.6 100.0% 1516.1 100.0% 65.0%

Source: IDC Worldwide Mobile Phone Tracker, March 4, 2013

While the flip over between smartphones and feature phones is a noteworthy important milestone it also highlights the increasingly broad nature of the smartphone definition. In reality there are now multiple tiers within the smartphone definition, with low cost smartphones arguably having more in common with high end features phones than high end smartphones. A good example of this is the way Nokia's full touch Asha devices increasingly blur the line between smartphone and feature phone, both in terms of features, but also positioning and pricing. The position that feature phones currently occupy in the market is not disappearing, but rather it is being subsumed into the ever expanding smartphones category. 

Source / Credit: IDC