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Latin America drives global smartphone uptake to record levels


via Flickr © philcampbell (CC BY 2.0)

New research from the venerable Germany-headquartered international research organisation GfK (Gesellschaft für Konsumforschung or 'Society for Consumer Research') shows that global smartphone sales in 2014 exceeded 1.2 billion units. The fastest growing region (year-on-year) was/is Latin America where smartphone sales increased by 59 per cent. In Q4 36 million smartphones were sold across the region, up 43 per cent on Q4, 2013.

Indeed, records were broken just about everywhere in the last quarter of 2014 with smartphone sales valued at $115 billion being recorded in the all-important period. That was an increase of 20 per cent on the same quarter in 2013. The number of smartphones sold worldwide in Q4 last was 346 million - an increase of 19 per cent on the same period in 2013.

The popularity of smartphones with screen sizes in excess of five inches shows little sign of waning. Global sales of these devices increased by an astonishing 150 per cent last year and GfK analysts reckon large format handsets will be biggest sellers in the mobile market sector over 2015.

That said, GfK also believes that emerging markets will be key to the continued success of the smartphone market this year, with sub-US$100 devices driving most of the uptake.

The only cloud in an otherwise sunny sky was over Korea, where changes to the old-established model of handset subsidy resulted in a slight downturn in terms of both book values and numbers shipped. But then Korea is a very, very mature and super-saturated mobile market where it is becoming increasingly difficult to provoke sector growth and further increase ARPU.

As might be expected, for the foreseeable future GFK believes that the People's Republic of China will continue to be the biggest smartphone market on earth in terms of both unit and value sales. However, the fact is that smartphone market growth there slowed markedly over the course of the second half of last year and Q4 figures show that during the quarter smartphone unit sales were flat year-on-year, although the value of units sold actually increased by 21 percent year-on-year to $28 billion, the highest ever quarterly figure.

Kevin Walsh, Director of Trends and Forecasting at GfK commented, “The increase in the value of units sold in China, despite the recent plateauing of unit sales, is due to consumers’ rapid adoption of higher-priced smartphones with larger screen sizes. This is a trend seen in most markets and GfK global data shows that the 5 to 5.6 inch segment grew by more than 130 percent year-on-year in the last quarter of 2014 and by nearly 150 percent in the full year. In 2015, we forecast this segment to become the dominant screen size band, surpassing 4 to 4.5 inch for the first time.”

He continued, “The slowdown forecast for 2015 is due to developed markets reaching saturation point. As a result, global smartphone unit growth will be only 14 per cent this year, down from 23 percent in 2014. We forecast emerging regions to drive growth in 2015 as smartphones further penetrate lower price points. Smartphone price bands above the $150 point will see a decline in their market share. At the next level down, $100-150, sales will remain stable, but it is the cheaper smartphones priced below this point that will gain share.”

Interestingly, as far as this year is concerned, the global regions expected to exhibit the most growth are "Emerging APAC" and the Middle East and Africa. GfK says both these regions will  see unit growth of 33 per cent as subscribers migrate from feature phones and existing smartphones to trade up to a bigger screen models.

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