Gartner said 2013 was a tipping point for the mobile phone market, as smartphone sales outpaced feature phones for the first time.
Total sales of smartphones to end users grew from 680 million in 2012 to 968 million in 2013, giving the devices a 53.6 per cent share of all mobile phones sold, the research company stated.
Gartner's figures for the fourth quarter show a higher share for smartphones, with sales of 282 million units equating to a market share of 57.6 per cent. Growth during the quarter was driven by higher smartphone sales in Eastern Europe, Middle East and Africa, Latin America, and Asia Pacific, which offset declining sales in mature markets.
Anshul Gupta, principal research analyst at Gartner, said saturation in mature markets leaves device makers little room to grow in those regions. "Lack of compelling hardware innovation has further exacerbated replacement cycles for high-end smartphones in 2013 because consumers don't find enough reasons to upgrade," he said.
While Samsung remained the world's leading smartphone vendor through 2013, with shipments of 299 million units and a market share of 31 per cent, Gartner concurs with data from other research companies that show the South Korean vendor lost market share in the fourth quarter despite increasing sales 29.5 per cent year on year to 83.3 million units.
Samsung's share of fourth quarter sales fell from 31.1 per cent in 2012 to 29.5 per cent in the recent quarter, and Apple's share declined from 20.9 per cent to 17.8 per cent year-on-year.
Huawei, Lenovo, and LG Electronics all gained market share in the fourth quarter, as did smaller vendors ranked as "other" by Gartner.
Gupta predicts that Lenovo will make up ground in the Americas after it completes a $2.91 billion (€2.12 billion) acquisition of Motorola Mobility, as the Chinese vendor gains access to key Motorola device patents. "We believe this deal is not just about entering into the U.S., but more about stepping out of China," he commented.
Separate figures from IDC show Lenovo's bid for Motorola may be timely.
The company reported that smartphone sales in China slowed in the fourth quarter of 2013, following nine consecutive quarters of growth. Total smartphone shipments in the country fell from 94.8 million units in the third quarter of 2013, to 90.8 million units in the final three months, as consumers held off buying new devices in anticipation of TD-LTE smartphones that are due to hit stores this year.
IDC reported that global smartphone shipments topped 1 billion units in 2013, fuelled by the ongoing popularity of Android and iOS devices. However, the company predicted the era of double-digit smartphone growth is coming to an end, with only a few more years of strong growth ahead.
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