Smartphones to eclipse feature phone shipments around the world

This year will mark the first time that global smartphone shipments are expected to surpass feature phones, according to the International Data Corporation’s (IDC) recently released Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker.

Figures show that about 50 per cent of mobile devices shipped this year will be smartphones, roughly 918 million units. And the number is only expected to grow over the next five years, reaching 1.5 billion in 2017.

IDC attributes the rise in smartphone popularity to a number of factors, including falling prices and the widespread introduction of 4G networks. Historically, the highest demand for smartphones has been in the Western world, but analysts are seeing a shift to emerging markets.

Demand for smartphones in China, Brazil and India is expected to grow year-over-year thanks to large populations and improving economies that have created a burgeoning middle class eager to scoop up the gadgets.

“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,” said Melissa Chau, senior research manager, 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.”

China currently leads the pack in smartphone shipments, having eclipsed the U.S. last year. Brazil, where a large amount of the population has not yet made the switch to smartphones, is expected to see significant growth, as is India, which is projected to have the highest increase.

On the other hand, the U.S. – where smartphone use is already mainstream – will likely see slower growth in the years to come. The United Kingdom faces a similar circumstance, where smartphones are already popular and the economy is stagnant. However, it still has more wealth compared to other Western European countries, along with high carrier subsidies and more LTE network rollouts, solidifying it as a major player.