Despite a projected record number of smartphone shipments in the high-volume holiday season, the worldwide mobile phone market is forecast to grow 1.4 percent year over year in 2012, the lowest annual growth rate in three years, according to research firm IDC's Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker.
IDC forecasts Google’s Android platform to be the clear leader in the smartphone mobile operating system race, thanks in large part to a broad selection of devices from a wide range of handset manufacturers, most notably Samsung. Apple’s recently updated iOS will maintain its position as the No. 2 platform behind Android at the end of 2012 and throughout the forecast.
While the popularity of the iPhone across multiple markets is expected to drive steady replacements and additional carrier partners will help Apple grow iOS volume, the relatively high cost of the iPhone, when compared to Android smartphones, could make it cost prohibitive for some users within many emerging markets.
"Sluggish economic conditions worldwide have cast a pall over the mobile phone market this year," said IDC senior research analyst Kevin Restivo. "However, the fourth quarter will be relatively bright due in part to sales of high-profile smartphones, such as the iPhone 5 and Samsung’s Galaxy S3, in addition to lower-cost Android-powered smartphones shipped to China and other high-growth emerging markets."
Global smartphone volume in the fourth quarter of 2012 (4Q12) is expected to reach 224.5 million units, representing 39.5 percent year-over-year growth due primarily to strong consumer demand. Smartphone shipments are forecast to grow 45.1 percent year over year to 717.5 million units for 2012.
The report noted a variety of factors drove strong smartphone growth this year, including steep device subsidies from carriers, especially in mature economic markets where carriers resell the majority of smartphones, as well as a growing array of sub-$250 smartphones in emerging markets.With Android and iOS dominating the market, struggling platforms from Research In Motion (RIM), maker of the BlackBerry handsets, Microsoft’s Windows Phone operating system, and Linux-based systems will battle it out for market share.
The report predicted the latest BlackBerry OS, known as BB 10, will grow slowly, but largely maintain share over the coming years following the launch next year. The RIM platform is expected to fight for third place with Windows Phone, a platform IDC predicted would build on the progress it made in 2012, thanks to Microsoft’s partnership with Nokia and contributions by Samsung, ZTE, and Huawei helping grow the Windows Phone footprint.
"Underpinning the worldwide smartphone market is a constantly shifting mobile operating system landscape," said IDC mobile phone team research manager Ramon Llamas. "Android is expected to stay in front, but we also expect it to be the biggest target for competing operating systems to grab market share. At the same time, Windows Phone stands to gain the most market share as its smartphone and carrier partners have gained valuable experience in selling the differentiated experience Windows Phone has to offer. What bears close observation is how BlackBerry's new platform, BlackBerry 10, and multiple versions of Linux will affect the market once the devices running these systems are available."