Emerging markets driving smartphone growth as China overtakes US

This year will almost certainly see China overtake the US to become the largest smartphone market in the world, according to research firm IDC. Basing its predictions on its Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker, IDC also believes India and Brazil will be part of the top five largest global smartphone markets by 2016.

In terms of smartphone shipments, this year will see China surpass the US – and this lead will only increase in the future. A major factor behind the explosive smartphone growth in China is the advent of lower-cost (sub-US$200) Android devices, with uptake set to continue as prices fall. Nokia and Samsung are set to dominate the low-end market with the cheapest smart devices, while Chinese firms Huawei, ZTE and Lenovo are more likely to provide higher-end smartphones via deals with the country’s largest operators.

The swift deployment of 3G in India, coupled with growing investment into local manufacturers from global OEMs, will lead to “galloping growth” according to IDC. Senior market analyst for mobile devices at IDC India G. Rajeev notes: "Demand for smartphones will also grow as urban and enterprise users mature in their handset preferences and usage."

For Brazil, the key factor that will drive smartphone adoption is the surge in average discretionary income afforded to many Brazilians by the country’s flourishing economy and bolstered by low inflation. Prepaid data packages are on the rise, with customers abandoning feature phones as smart devices become more affordable to them.

But growth in emerging markets will not be plain sailing, according to senior analyst on IDC's Mobile Phone Technology and Trends team Ramon Llamas, who notes that "smartphones still represent a significant investment for consumers in many countries.” He warns that the total cost of smartphone ownership will deter many unless operators “creatively subsidise device cost and data plans.”

Despite the potential difficulties, global smartphone growth will definitely be driven by emerging markets, claims Llamas. "Due to their sheer size, strong demand, and healthy replacement rates, emerging markets are quickly becoming the engines of the worldwide smartphone market," he adds.

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