Are you one of those change-resistant people still attached to that 2009 flip-phone with abysmally slow
speed and no apps?
If so, you may soon find yourself in the minority. For the first time, device makers have reached the tipping point of shipping slightly more smartphones than feature phones into the global market, according to a report by International Data Corp.
The Framingham, Mass.-based firm's Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker predicts that vendors will ship 918.6 million smartphones this year, or 50.1 percent of the total mobile phone shipments worldwide.
Two Out of Three Ain't Bad
Cheap handset prices via carrier subsidies, a huge data-network footprint and the availability of lightning-fast, 4G long-term evolution data networks are fueling the boom, IDC said.
The next four years will be see the scales shift more drastically, with an estimated 1.5 billion smartphones shipped worldwide by 2017, amounting to two out of three phone shipped. So that flip-phone will really stand out in a crowd, if you're still packing it by then.
In the U.S., just over half of wireless consumers were using smartphones last year, according to numbers from Nielsen Research.
But until now growth in other countries has been slower, which means that highly populous nations like China, Brazil, and India with growing economies will amount to much of the global smartphone growth during that four-year period. China is at the forefront of this shift and last year outpaced the U.S. for the first time in smartphone shipments. Together with the United Kingdom, the above-mentioned countries represent the top five markets for smartphones, IDC said.
The company believes that actual sales of smartphones, not just shipments, will also surpass feature phones.
"Even as China starts to mature, there remains enormous untapped potential in other emerging markets like India, where we expect less than half of all phones shipped there to be smartphones by 2017, and yet it will weigh in as the world's third-largest market," said Melissa Chau, senior research manager with IDC's Asia/Pacific Client Devices team.
This year's smartphone shipment projections are 301.2 million for China, 137.5 million for the U.S., 35.5 million for the U.K., 35.2 million for Japan, 28.9 million for Brazil and 27.8 million for India.
Cheaper Phones Still Needed
Because Japan already has a lot of smartphones and has a smaller population, its shipments will rise at the slowest rate, just 2.5 percent, to 37.7 million by 2017, IDC says.
IDC analyst Ramon Llamas told us he does not envision carriers in large nations phasing out low-cost feature phones, which do not require monthly data plans, anytime soon.
"There's still going to be a small percentage of markets where feature phones have to be offered and supported," Llamas said.
One place where it could happen, however, is South Korea, Llamas said, because that's a country that is small but "incredibly smartphone focused."