Smartphone costs drop as market reaches saturation point

Latest market stats from analysts GfK show more than a billion smartphones shipped in 2014, but costs are now dropping as the market matures

Worldwide unit sales of smartphone hardware exceeded 1.2bn in 2014, but in mature markets, such as the UK, average selling prices (ASPs) have begun to drop and will continue to do so in 2015, according to analysts at GfK.

In its latest survey of the global smartphone market, the analyst house said in the final quarter of 2014 alone, smartphone sales grew by 20% year-on-year, reaching $115bn. while 346m units shipped, up by 19% compared with the same period in 2013.

In regional terms, all areas saw growth in unit sales and value, with the exception of the market GfK terms "developed Apac [Asia-Pacific]", which was hindered by changes to subsidies in South Korea. Latin America, meanwhile, saw the highest rate of growth.

China is set to remain the largest market in terms of both unit sales and value for the time being, said GfK.

But even China is now starting to see the effects of market maturity, reported the analysts, with growth slowing dramatically in the last six months of 2014 and flat-lining during the last three months of the year. The value of those units sold, however, grew by 21% year-on-year as Chinese consumers traded up to premium handsets.

GfK director of trends and forecasting Kevin Walsh said adoption of higher-priced smartphones with larger screen sizes was effectively a universal trend in mature markets.

“GfK global data shows that the 5 to 5.6-inch segment grew by more than 130% year-on-year in the last quarter of 2014, and by nearly 150% in the full year,” he said.

“In 2015, we forecast this segment to become the dominant screen size band, surpassing 4 to 4.5-inch for the first time.”

All other regions, save North America and developed Apac, but including Europe, saw ASPs drop in 2014, and GfK forecasted growth rates would slow significantly in 2015.

“Global smartphone growth will be only 14% this year, down from 23% in 2014,” said Walsh. “We forecast emerging regions to drive growth in 2015 as smartphones further penetrate lower price points.

“Smartphone price bands above $150 will see a decline in their market share. At the next level down – $100 to $150 – sales will remain stable, but it is the cheaper smartphones priced below this point that will gain share.”

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