Report: Smartphone shipments to outpace feature phones for first time in 2013

Shipments of smartphones will surpass feature phones for the first time this year, according to a new report from research firm IDC, marking a tipping point as mobile broadband adoption expands and smartphone prices come down worldwide. The report also found that China will outpace the United States as the world's largest smartphone market both this year and on into the future.

IDC predicts that vendors will ship 918.6 million smartphones this year, or 50.1 percent of the total mobile phone shipments worldwide. In January, IDC said that vendors shipped 712.6 million smartphones in 2012, out of a total of 1.73 billion handsets, or 41 percent of the total.

The research firm said falling smartphone prices, the rise of LTE networks and a wider array of smartphone models will contribute to increasing shipments. By the end of 2017, IDC forecasts 1.5 billion smartphones will be shipped worldwide, which will equate to just over two-thirds of the total mobile phone shipments that year.

IDC is not the only research firm to project that smartphones will overtake feature phones this year. In August 2012 IHS iSuppli predicted that in 2013 smartphones will account for account for 54 percent of the total handset market, up from 46 percent in 2012 and 35 percent in 2011. 

Demand from China, Brazil, India and other emerging markets will supplement maturing smartphone demand from developed markets in the United States and Western Europe, IDC said. "Smartphone demand is burgeoning in these large, populous nations as their respective economies have grown; this has made for a larger middle class that is prepared to buy smartphones," IDC noted. "China, which supplanted the U.S. last year as the global leader in smartphone shipments, is at the forefront of this shift."

IDC said that China, which passed the United States as the largest smartphone market in 2012, will make up 32.8 percent of the global smartphone market this year, surpassing the U.S. market at 15 percent share. While China will decline to 30.2 percent share in 2017, IDC predicts, the United States will fall to 12.1 percent. In that period Brazil will see its share grow from 3.1 percent in 2013 to 4.4 percent in 2017. India will see the largest jump, climbing from 3 percent in 2013 to 10.3 percent in 2017, IDC predicted.

Samsung Electronics, Nokia (NYSE:NOK), HTC and others have zeroed in on China as an opportunity for future smartphone growth. Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) CEO Tim Cook  said earlier this year that he thinks China will eventually surpass the United States as Apple's largest market.

For more:
- see this IDC release
- see this Bloomberg article

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