Smartphone use is so rampant on Earth that by 2015, more than one-quarter of the planet's population will be using the devices, according to new research from forecasting firm, eMarketer. Then just a year later, in 2016, the number of smartphone users around the world will hit 2 billion for the first time, up from about 1.91 billion in 2015, according to the eMarketer data released Dec. 11.
A similar study by research firm Gartner shows that smartphone sales in emerging nations reached their highest numbers ever in the third quarter of 2014.
In 2013, global smartphone use involved some 1.31 billion users, which grew to an estimated 1.64 billion in 2014, according to the eMarketer research. By 2018, global smartphone use is expected to soar to 2.56 billion users if existing trends continue, according to eMarketer.
The nation with the highest number of smartphone users is China, with 519.7 million users in 2014, followed by the United States, with 165.3 million users, and India, with 123.3 million users, noted eMarketer. By 2018, China is expected to lead the world with 704.1 million smartphone users, with India moving into second place with an expected 279.2 million users. The United States will move into third place, according to the estimates, with about 220 million users.
An eMarketer spokesman did not immediately return a call from eWEEK about the firm's new figures.
In the Gartner report, smartphone sales in emerging nations have been soaring.
"From a regional perspective, emerging markets exhibited some of the highest growth ever recorded with Eastern Europe and the Middle East and Africa achieving the highest increase in the third quarter of 2014, with sales of smartphones growing almost 50 percent year-over-year," the report stated. "Among the mature markets, the U.S. achieved the highest growth, with an 18.9 percent increase in the third quarter of 2014, fostered by the launch of the iPhones 6 and 6 Plus. Western Europe saw a decline of 5.2 percent, the third consecutive decline this year."
Gartner analyst Annette Zimmermann said in a statement that Gartner expects record holiday sales of Apple's iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus smartphones, but added that Chinese vendors are continuing to make strides around the world and should not be underestimated.
"Chinese players will continue to look at expanding in overseas emerging markets," she said. "In Europe, prepaid country markets and attractive lost-cost LTE [Long Term Evolution] phones will also offer key opportunities for these brands."
The new smartphone trend figures come just a week after research about potential safety risks from smartphones was published in Great Britain, according to a recent eWEEK report. The new study concludes that exposure to magnetic fields from smartphones and power lines is not harmful, according to researchers at the University of Manchester in England.
The latest study adds to a continuing pool of research on this very controversial topic. New studies periodically are announced around the world, often with conclusions that are 180 degrees different from the studies that preceded them, making it confusing for people who want to know if their mobile phones are harming them.
In 2010, officials in the state of Maine sought warning labels on cell phones after being spurred by reports of a possible link between cell phone radiation and cancer, while officials in San Francisco suggested a city law to force retailers to display a phone's absorption rate in print at least as big as the price. Both proposals came despite a paucity of hard scientific evidence.
The San Francisco initiative was prompted by an Environmental Working Group (EWG) report in September 2009 that warned of studies that allegedly found significantly higher risks for brain and salivary gland tumors among people using cell phones for 10 years or longer.
The issue remains a thorn in the side of the wireless industry, which argues that humans using such devices are not at risk.