smartphone researchHaving skyrocketed as Apple released a string of innovative and pioneering portable and wireless devices over the past decade, Apple’s share price has – uncharacteristically – been a laggard recently, even as broad stock market indices reached new five-year highs. A new report from ABI Research predicts that Apple’s share of the global smartphone market will peak this year, even as smartphone shipments continue to grow and come to dominate shipments of all types of handsets.

Smartphones will be the largest segment of the handset market globally by 2014, accounting for half of all handset shipments, according to ABI. That will increase to 69% by 2018 when 2.4 billion handsets will be shipped. LTE shipments will make up 35% of the total and 50% of smartphone shipments in 2018, ABI forecasts.

Apple will increasingly find itself chasing Samsung in terms of technology, as well as mobile device leadership, ABI’s analysts say. “Barring an unlikely collapse in Samsung’s business, even Apple will be chasing Samsung’s technology, software, and device leadership in 2013 through the foreseeable future,” senior analyst Michael Morgan asserted. “Since 2010 Samsung has grown its smartphone market share from 8% to over 30% in 2012; meanwhile Apple’s market share is expected to peak in 2013 at 22%; remaining flat through 2018.

“While Samsung’s rise has been on the back of Android, which accounts for 90% of Samsung’s smartphone shipments, the future smartphone OS landscape will likely be heavily influenced by the importance Samsung places on the elements of its OS portfolio of Bada, Tizen, Windows Phone, and Android.”

ABI also foresees LTE smartphone and handset shipments growing as the “LTE ecosystem” develops and matures, a process seen in “the success of the Android ecosystem.” Featuring “the latest in screen and application process technologies, LTE handsets will also benefit” from consumer demand for premium smartphones, which isn’t based solely on high-bandwidth connectivity, ABI notes.

“With the successful launch of the iPhone 5 and competing LTE handsets from other leading OEMs, LTE handsets will be found in the hands of many consumers who do not even have access to LTE networks,” senior practice director Jeff Orr commented. “Apple is demonstrating to the market that LTE is not the only reason to buy a premium handset.”

Though LTE will be the fastest growing WWAN technology in history, the primary driver of smartphone growth will be the low-cost smartphone segment. ABI forecasts that smartphones with wholesale ASPs under $250 will represent 62% of total smartphone shipments by 2018, according to ABI’s “Mobile Handset Markets Database.”