Global Growth for Smartphone Sales to Shrink to Single Digits by 2022

A new Forrester Research forecast also found that larger smartphones are cutting into the sales of tablets around the world.


Some 70 percent of the world's population will be connected by mobile devices by 2022, up from 21 percent of the global population in 2013, according to a new study by Forrester Research. And with that approaching saturation of mobile devices, future global growth will likely be in the single digits.

The seven-page study, "Forrester Data: Mobile, Smartphone and Tablet Forecast, 2017 to 2022 (Global)," also reveals that the sales of large smartphones, also known as phablets, are continuing to cut into the sales of small consumer tablets.

"In terms of the growth rate in sales [of mobile phones] we are seeing a consistent decline from 2012," Satish Meena, the author of the study, told eWEEK. "This coincides with high penetration in developed markets" and earlier double-digit sales increases from 2013 to 2015 in places like China, India and other emerging economies, he said. "So in terms of sales, we are almost at a saturation point with the market growing in single digits from here."

These patterns will result in expectations of a 67 percent global penetration of smartphones by 2022 "and at that point very few countries will have space for adding new subscribers," said Meena.

In developed countries like the United States and in Europe, the main source of mobile phone sales today is for replacement devices, not new first-time purchases, according to the research.

"Due to no significant [phone] launches with improved features in the last few years, the replacement rate is going down, leading to people using handsets for more time than in the past," said Meena. Most of the net new sales today and in the future will be coming from the Asia Pacific and African markets, he added.

The Forrester report forecasts that the number of unique global mobile device subscribers will surpass 5.5 billion in 2022, up from 4.8 billion in 2016 and an estimated 4.9 billion predicted for 2017. Of those, some 2.8 billion subscribers are using smartphones in 2017, with another 1 billion using feature phones, according to the data. That gap is expected to narrow by 2022, when some 3.8 billion users will have smartphones and 433 million users will have feature phones.

That forecast of 5.5 billion mobile subscribers is almost double the number of mobile subscribers back in 2008, with the majority of the new growth coming from Asia Pacific and Latin America due to the emergence of low-cost smartphones in those areas, the study reports. North America and Europe remained the regions with the highest penetration of mobile subscribers in 2016, followed by Latin America, the Middle East, Africa and Asia Pacific.

Meena said he wasn't surprised to see in the data that sales of larger smartphones are cannibalizing the sales of small tablets, particularly in China and India, because the smartphones are more versatile than tablets alone for users.

"The screen size of smartphones increased at a time when tablets are trying to increase adoption in markets like China, India, Indonesia and Africa, which are accounting for the majority of the sales of smartphones [today]," he said. "[People] in these countries were using smartphones as the first device to go online, and with an increase in screen size they can use a smartphone for things like video content, online shopping and accessing social media, which are the predominant use cases for mobile devices."

Falling average selling prices of smartphones due to the rise of low-cost manufacturers from China also have been contributing to this pattern, he said.

Meena added that he expected a higher shift rate from feature phones to smartphones in the forecast, but the lower estimates were determined due to continuing significant price differences between feature phones and smartphones.

The Android operating system is used by 72.8 percent of global smartphone users, according to 2016 full-year statistics, while 20.7 percent use iOS. Windows Phone is being used by 5 percent of users, with 0.3 percent using BlackBerry and 1.3 percent using other operating systems.