Global mobile phone shipments slowing down

Smallest increase in three years predicted by research firm IDC as interest in non-smartphones starts to cool.

The hot mobile phone market appears to be cooling down.

According to a forecast released Wednesday by IDC, 1.8 billion mobile phones will be shipped around the world this year. That's a four-percent increase over 2011, but the lowest increase since 2009.

IDC pegs the growth slowdown to reductions in shipments of "feature phones"--industry jargon for anything that isn't a smartphone.

Shipments of feature phones--which represent more than 61 percent of total shipments--will decline by 10 percent this year, IDC said. Many owners of the talk-and-text devices are holding on to their old mobiles because they're concerned about uncertain economic conditions, it explained.

By contrast, smartphone shipments continue to burn chrome. IDC predicted smartphones will grow by 38.8 percent this year, to 686 million. Those shipments are being driven by factors such as high carrier subsidies, falling average selling prices and component costs, increased awareness and device diversity, and lower-cost data plans among.

"The smartphone parade won’t be as lively this year as it has been in the past," said IDC Senior Research Analyst Kevin Restivo said in a statement. "The mobile phone user transition from feature phones to smartphones will continue in a gradual but unabated fashion."

Android Expected to Dominate in the Short Term

Over the next five years, smartphone shipments will be dominated by units running Google's Android operating system, IDC predicted, although it expects its share of global shipments to decline from 61 percent in 2012 to 52.9 percent in 2016.

IDC also forecasted that shipments of Windows-based smartphones and Apple's iPhone will be in a dead heat by 2016, with both having about 19 percent of the market. It said that Windows shipments will be fueled by Nokia's strong presence in emerging markets.

Although Apple's share of shipments will decline slightly over the next five years, shipment volumes will continue to grow significantly during the period, IDC noted. It added that emerging market growth is of the utmost importance if iOS is to gain market share.

"Underpinning the smartphone market is the constantly shifting OS landscape," observed IDC Senior Research Analyst Ramon Llamas.

"Android will maintain leadership throughout our forecast," Llamas continued, "while others will gain more mobile operator partnerships (Apple) or currently find themselves in the midst of a major transition (BlackBerry and Windows Phone/Windows Mobile)."

"What remains to be seen is how these different operating systems--as well as others--will define and shape the user experience beyond what we see today in order to attract new customers and encourage replacements," he added.

Follow freelance technology writer John P. Mello Jr. and Today@PCWorld on Twitter.

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John P. Mello Jr.

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