IDC: China to inch past U.S. as largest smartphone market in 2012

Although the United States has been one of the world's hottest smartphone markets during the past few years, it will likely be surpassed by China by the end of the year, although only by a hair, according to research firm IDC.

According to IDC's projections, by the end of 2012, China will have 20.7 percent of the global smartphone market, based on shipments slightly ahead of the 20.6 percent the U.S. market will claim. The UK will follow with 4.5 percent in 2012, followed India with 2.9 percent and Brazil with 2.3 percent. The rest of the world will make up the remaining 49 percent.

By 2016, the United States' share of the global smartphone market will decline to 15.3 percent, while China will remain relatively stable at 20.2 percent. However, IDC forecasts that India will grow its share to 9.3 percent and Brazil will grow to 4.7 percent, as emerging markets take on a bigger share of the market.

"Due to their sheer size, strong demand, and healthy replacement rates, emerging markets are quickly becoming the engines of the worldwide smartphone market," IDC analyst Ramon Llamas said in a statement. "Users in emerging markets seek more than simple voice telephony, and smartphones offer the ideal platform for mobile entertainment, social networking and business usage as seen in developed markets."

Smartphone vendors have clearly taken aim at the Chinese market and other emerging markets. Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) CEO Tim Cook said in February that iPhone sales in China were "staggering," and noted that the company's revenue skyrocketed to $13 billion in Greater China in 2011. Apple recently began selling the iPhone with China Telecom, in addition to China Unicom.

Other companies are clearly trying to cater to emerging markets. Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) recently announced a version of its Windows Phone software for devices with 256 of RAM, which will allow Microsoft's hardware partners to offer cheaper Windows Phones in China and other emerging markets.

For more:
- see this IDC release

Special Report: The Q4 2011 global handset and smartphone market in 4 charts

Related Articles:
Nokia to hold China Windows Phone launch event March 28
Apple's Cook pessimistic on making low-cost, prepaid iPhone
MediaTek takes aim at low-end Android market with new chip
IDC: Apple surpasses LG, claims No. 3 global handset spot in Q4