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By 7 June 2012 | Categories: news

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Market research firm IDC recently revealed that smartphones powered by the Android and iOS mobile operating systems (OSs) accounted for eight out of ten smartphones shipped during Q1 2012. Now the analytics firm is looking beyond the first quarter of this year to the rest of 2012 and beyond.

According to the company’s worldwide quarterly mobile phone tracker service, the global mobile phone market is forecasted to grow slightly over 4% year-on-year during 2012, which would amount to the lowest annual growth rate since 2009. This is due to a sharp decline (projected at 10%) in the feature phone market as well as sluggish economic conditions worldwide.

The company stated that vendors will ship almost 1.8 billion mobile phones this year, compared to last year’s figure of 1.7 billion units. By the end of 2016, the IDC forecasts that 2.3 billion mobile phones will be shipped.

Feature phone market’s decline spells a rise in the smartphone segment

A decline in the feature phone market will be the result of many owners of these “talk and text” devices holding onto their mobile phones, in light of uncertain job and economic prospects. The IDC said that despite this decline in shipments, feature phones will still comprise 61.6% of the total mobile phone market this year.

By comparison the smartphone market will largely offset the feature phone decline with shipments forecasted by the IDC to grow 38.8% year-on-year, to a total of 686 million units during 2012.

According to the company, this increased demand for smartphones is being fuelled by high carrier subsidies, decreasing average selling prices as well as component costs, increased buyer awareness, device diversity, and lower-cost data plans among other factors.

“The smartphone parade won’t be as lively this year as it has been in past,” said Kevin Restivo, senior research analyst with IDC’s worldwide quarterly mobile phone tracker. “The mobile phone user transition from feature phones to smartphones will continue in a gradual but unabated fashion. Smartphone growth, however, will increasingly be driven by a triumvirate of smartphone operating systems, namely Android, iOS and Windows Phone 7.”

Android to stay on top of smartphone platforms podium

Ramon Llamas, senior research analyst with IDC’s mobile phone technology and trends team stated that the underpinning of the smartphone market is constantly shifting the OS landscape.
“Android will maintain leadership throughout our forecast, 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),” Llamas elaborated.

“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.”

IDC projects that Android will remain the most shipped smartphone OS over the course of the five-year forecast, even though its share will peak during 2012. Increasingly, its share and growth will be driven by Samsung sales. The firm asserts that this will be the case even as more mobile devices powered by Google’s mobile OS from a wide variety of original equipment manufacturers is released to market.

Table: IDC worldwide mobile phone tracker, 6 June 2012

Android competition: iOS and Windows Phone OS

According to the IDC, Apple’s iOS looks set to continue its impressive run this year due to strong iPhone 4S momentum in the US, Western Europe, as well as Asia/Pacific, most notably in China.

Growth will moderate over the five-year forecast period according to company, because of the huge installed base Apple has accumulated over the last few years. This means that the IDC doesn’t expect the Cupertino-based firm to grow its market share by much, but users who already own iPhones are likely to upgrade to a new model resulting in Apple maintaining the share it currently possesses.

Interestingly, the IDC sees Windows Phone OS gaining market share despite Microsoft’s smartphone platform’s slow start. The company still believes that Windows Phone OS will be aided by Nokia’s strength in key emerging markets, to the extent that this mobile OS is expected to occupy the number two spot (after Android), with over 19% market share by 2016. This expectation is based upon the assumption that Espoo manages to maintain its foothold in emerging markets.

And what of BlackBerry OS and Symbian?

The IDC stated that there will continue to be a market for BlackBerry OS-powered devices despite RIM’s (Research In Motion’s) current woes. This is true in emerging markets, for example, where users are looking for affordable messaging devices, as illustrated by the
BlackBerry brand cleaning up at The Sunday Times Generation Next 2012 Brand Survey Awards held recently.

However, the IDC added that the gap between the BlackBerry OS and its primary mobile platform competition is going to get bigger over the forecasted period, as the mobile phone market becomes increasingly software or app-oriented and the “bring your own device” enterprise trend gains momentum.

According to the IDC, the “death knell of Symbian as a widely-used smartphone OS was sounded last year” with Nokia revealing that Windows Phone OS will be its primary smartphone platform going forward.

This announcement resulted in competing platforms including Android and iOS devouring the OS’s market share and the IDC expects Symbian-powered smartphone shipments to all but cease by 2014. The company added that Nokia and Microsoft must quickly switch Symbian OS user’s allegiances to Windows Phone OS, in order to maintain relevancy in the smartphone race.

In related news, the IDC also revealed last month that Q1 2012 was a disappointing quarter for media tablets, with a dramatic decrease in the shipment of Android-based tablets being offset by a strong quarter from Apple and its iPad.

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