If it feels like everyone you know is getting a smartphone, you might not be imagining things. During the past three months, worldwide shipments of smartphones rose by 89.5 percent compared with the same period last year.
Between July and September 2009, manufacturers shipped 42.8 million handsets. This year the figure was 81.1 million. The pace of that increase is also rising: for the first half of 2010, sales were “only” up by 55 percent.
To put that rise in hard figures, the total smartphone shipments for 2009 were 174 million. This year sales just broke through the 200 million barrier by the end of September.
(The figures are for shipments rather than sales. Generally the two are closely linked on the simple grounds that manufacturers do their best to avoid making phones that aren’t going to sell. You can insert your own Microsoft Kin joke here.)
While the momentum is clearly towards smartphones, they are still in the minority. IDC, which put together the figures, reports that around 15 percent of all phone shipments were smartphones. It also predicts that the respective figure this year should be over 20 percent. And, of course, these figures only deal with new handsets, meaning the actual proportion of handsets in current use that are smartphones is likely even lower.
So what’s causing the global shift in buying patterns? Partly it’s the most basic elements of demand and supply: more and more consumers want the ability to have detailed access to online services on the move, while manufacturers are increasingly concentrating on newer technologies. (After all, is there really much new that can be added to a “dumb” phone?)
It also appears to be the result of marketing and pricing schemes spreading to new markets. While simpler cellphones can now be made and sold directly to consumers at an affordable but profitable price, the sheer cost of making smartphones means that model doesn’t work. Instead it appears buyers in more and more countries are becoming comfortable with the model familiar in most major Western markets: the network carrier subsidizing the up-front cost (making the phone free in some cases) and then recouping the money through a mandatory service agreement.