There’s a problem with most of these debates. They mostly focus on the rich world, and that’s increasingly not where the action is.
The smartphone market in the rich world is maturing. The growth is in the emerging markets and, increasingly, as hardware prices go down and connectivity goes up, the growth will be coming from poor countries. Cell phone ownership (albeit of the dumbphone kind) is already very high in sub-Saharan Africa; if Google’s Project Loon doesn’t make cheap wireless high-speed internet ubiquitous some other technology will; and some time soon the equivalent of a second-generation iPhone will be as cheap in poor-country-salary hours as a cell phone is today.
As I argued in a previous column, this actually creates an opportunity for a new platform to emerge. Today, the cheapest smartphones still have limited chip and memory capacity and battery life, which means that a software platform tuned to those limitations is attractive. OEMs like China’s ZTE who are comfortable working at very tight margins and have astonishing expertise making really cheap devices have made a big priority of winning this market, while Samsung and iPhone battle it out for the high-margin segment.
All of this points to an opportunity in the way of the classic disruptive innovation model: Attack an underserved segment of the market with a cheaper, lower-featured product, and gradually eat your way up the value chain as the incumbents spend their time focusing on the premium side of the market.
iOS claims greater share of US smartphone market compared with the UK
The UK has long been one of the more advanced mobile markets in the world, with rapid adoption of smartphones. But consumers in the US are catching up, eMarketer estimates.
eMarketer expects 65.0% of US mobile phone users, or 51.4% of the total population, to use a smartphone at least monthly in 2014. That compares with two-thirds of mobile phone users in the UK, or 53.7% of the total population. The UK will continue to lead by both of these metrics—but only slightly—throughout our forecast period, thanks to robust growth in the US smartphone market.
Among US smartphone owners, Android-based handsets are the most popular, and eMarketer estimates that they will reach 50.0% penetration this year, while iOS-based handsets continue to claw back share slowly, with 40.5% of the market expected for 2014. Both major operating systems will continue to make slight gains as BlackBerry, Windows Mobile and other operating systems continue to lose significance.
In the run up to this year’s Mobile World Congress, one of the most interesting items was an announcement of more phones running the Firefox OS operating system. The goal of the Mozilla Foundation with Firefox OS is to make dirt-cheap smartphones for the developing world, and they have targeted prices of $20 and $25 for the smartphones — which are really more like feature phones.
To the skeptics, Firefox OS doesn’t stand much of a chance against the juggernaut that is Android. After all, Android is already free and open source. And feature phones are going the way of the Dodo bird. And the mobile platform game is all about network effects and apps, and Android has too much of a lead among developers for Firefox OS to get a foothold.
But hold on. There are a few things this narrative doesn’t take into account.
First, Firefox OS actually solves a few serious technical problems that Google is not interested in with Android. It is optimized for cheap, low-power chips, and to fit on a very small amount of memory.
Global smartwatch shipments reached 1.9 million units last year, and Google’s Android mobile OS captured a 61 percent market share, according to Strategy Analytics.
The nascent smartwatch market is starting to take shape and there is huge opportunity for growth. In 2012 vendors only shipped a few hundred thousand units, said Neil Mawston, executive director at Strategy Analytics.
Samsung’s Galaxy Gear (pictured at top) helped Android achieve its dominant market share. The device is being promoted heavily in the U.S., U.K. and South Korea, the market research company said.
Android has several challengers in the smartwatch space, like Firefox and Pebble OS, but none of them are a major threat at this stage because of their relatively limited ecosystems and modest retail presence.
FRAMINGHAM, Mass.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–The smartphone market passed an important milestone in 2013 when worldwide shipments surpassed the 1 billion mark for the first time, driven by continued momentum from Android and iOS. According to the International Data Corporation (IDC)Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker, Android and iOS accounted for 95.7% of all smartphone shipments in the fourth quarter of 2013 (4Q13), and for 93.8% of all smartphone shipments for the year. This marked a 4.5-point increase from the 91.2% share that the two platforms shared in 4Q12, and a 6.1-point increase from the 87.7% share they had in 2012.
“In 2013 we saw the sub-$200 smartphone market grow to 42.6% of global volume, or 430 million units”
“Clearly, there was strong end-user demand for both Android and iOS products during the quarter and the year,” says Ramon Llamas, Research Manager with IDC’s Mobile Phone team. “What stands out are the different routes Android and Apple took to meet this demand. Android relied on its long list of OEM partners, a broad and deep collection of devices, and price points that appealed to nearly every market segment. Apple’s iOS, on the other hand, relied on nearly the opposite approach: a limited selection of Apple-only devices, whose prices trended higher than most. Despite these differences, both platforms found a warm reception to their respective user experiences and selection of mobile applications.”
While smartphone market growth remained strong in 2013, it should be noted that the era of double-digit annual growth has only a few years remaining. In the meantime, handset vendors are doing all they can to capture demand while it is still present. Worldwide smartphone marketing campaigns continue to stay focused on flagship devices like the iPhone 5S, Galaxy Note 3, and the HTC One, yet research shows that consumer buying is rapidly shifting toward products with significantly lower price points.
The smartphone industry is full of jargon that is difficult for non-insiders to understand. Charles Arthur at The Guardian recently posted a comprehensive explanation of a few terms that are the most confusing to casual observers, including “market share,” “installed base,” and “shipments.”
It’s easy to get caught up in headlines that point to Android phones having a dominant 80% “market share” in the global smartphone market, and Arthur wants people to dig deeper into that number by understanding what it really means, rather than take it at face value.
His article is a great read but at BI Intelligence we thought it would be useful to summarize his main points, with our definitions in bold:
1. Market share numbers are usually only a snapshot of smartphones shipped by manufacturers in a given quarter. Quarterly market share updates are not very useful on their own.
An example is IDC’s announcement Nov. 12 that phones running the Android operating system account for an 81% share of the global smartphone market.
It’s wrong to extrapolate from these quarterly market share numbers and think that 81% of phones in people’s hands are Android phones. The number just means that 81% of phones shipped in the quarter were Android devices. As Arthur explains, it’s ultimately sales that impact the installed base of devices, but most research firms and press reports actually discuss shipments.
FRAMINGHAM, Mass. – Google’s Android operating system reached a new milestone during the third quarter of 2013 (3Q13), according to the International Data Corporation (IDC) Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker. With a total base of 211.6 million smartphone units shipped during the quarter, Android accounted for 81.0% of all smartphone shipments, marking the first time that Android topped 80% in its short history. Despite high saturation rates in a number of mature markets, the overall smartphone space grew 39.9% year-over-year in the third quarter.
Also reaching a milestone was Microsoft’s Windows Phone, which grew an amazing 156.0% year over year. Granted, volumes started from a small base of 3.7 million units a year ago and overall market share is still less than five percent. But Microsoft’s efforts, with Nokia’s support behind it, helped drive the platform into multiple tiers and price points.