Global smartphone shipment growth will be just 0.6% year-over-year (YoY) in 2016 to total 1.45 billion units, according to the latest from IDC’s Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker. That’s down sharply from 10.4% YoY growth exhibited in 2015.
Growth in developed markets, including the U.S., will be slower where smartphones are more widely used and wireless network value chain participants are further along the 4G adoption curve. Most of the growth will come from emerging 4G smartphone markets in the Asia-Pacific, Central and Eastern Europe, Middle East and Africa, and Latin America, IDC highlights.
That said, IDC expects YoY 4G smartphone shipment growth will be in the double digits, 21.3% this year to reach 1.17 billion units, up from 967 million in 2015.
4G smartphones accounted for 85% of smartphone shipments in the U.S., Canada, Japan and Western Europe last year. IDC predicts that will rise to 94% in 2016.
“It’s been a long slog for 4G uptake in many emerging markets as 4G data tariffs have long been very expensive compared to 3G, while 4G handsets themselves have also been relatively pricey across the board,” Melissa Chau, associate research director with IDC’s Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Device Trackers, was quoted in a press release about the smartphone shipment growth research.
IDC expects growth of 4G wireless network connectivity will also fuel growth of 4G-enabled feature phones, according to the market research provider’s short-term forecast. Competing on price, 4G feature phones should prove attractive to consumers in both developed and emerging markets, at least until smartphone prices drop, IDC says.
Coming as it does at the advent of the 2016 holiday shopping season, IDC notes that smartphone marketing has intensified in nearly every region.
“In North America and Western Europe, Google has been putting a significant amount of marketing dollars behind the new Pixel and Pixel XL, although early supply chain indications are that volumes are not at the point where Samsung or Apple should see a significant impact for Q4. Of course, as we head into 2017 this can change, but many eyes will be on Google to see how serious they are about pursuing the hardware play,” IDC’s Ryan Reith commented.
Smartphone Shipment Growth Trends
Other highlights from IDC’s research:
Android: It is no secret that Google’s Android OS has been and will remain the majority share platform in smartphones for the foreseeable future. It will also be at the core of the aforementioned 4G growth expected in emerging markets as low-cost Android players are not using newer, faster low-cost chips. The biggest focus point in regard to Android is Google’s recent entry into the hardware space. It is too early to tell if this will negatively impact relations with other hardware partner OEMs, but it is a move similar to Microsoft’s entry into the hardware space with Surface and, on the surface, it does not seem to be disruptive. However, the move is also aided by the lack of viable mobile platform alternatives.
iOS: All signs point to 2016 being the first full year of declining shipments for Apple’s iPhone. The iPhone 7 and 7 Plus have done well, but three quarters of year-over-year declines, as well as a projected fourth quarter decline by IDC, will account for negative growth. By no means is this doomsday for Apple in this category and 2017 marks the tenth year of iPhone, so it is hard to believe Apple doesn’t have something big up its sleeve. Challenges of low-cost competition remain, and Google getting into the premium space certainly doesn’t make things any easier. Look for Apple to mix things up with whatever version(s) they bring to market in the coming year to hopefully rebound shipment growth.
Windows Phone: Microsoft’s mobile platform remained largely a non-story in 2016 other than HP’s reentry into the smartphone space with the X3 product. IDC projects Windows Phone shipments to decline 79.1% in 2016 as the number of OEMs supporting the platform continue to diminish. Rumors of a Surface Phone from Microsoft continue to linger, but the drawn out hurdle of a much needed mobile ecosystem has not gone away. Unless Microsoft has a way to get around this, IDC anticipates a tough road ahead for the platform.