Mobile Device Shipments to Reach 2.5 Billion Units in 2014: Gartner

With phones making up the majority share, overall device sales this year will beat 2013's totals by 6.9 percent, says Gartner.

This year, expect to see global shipments of mobile phones, tablets, PCs and ultramobile devices rise 6.9 percent over 2013's totals, to a high of 2.5 billion units, Gartner announced in a March 27 report.

By contrast, 2013's device shipments increased 4.8 percent over 2012's.

Mobile phones will again represent the largest portion of the whole, and shipments are expected to increase by nearly 5 percent over last year's total. Driving sales, said Annette Zimmermann, a Gartner principal research analyst, will be the low end of the premium phone market and the high end of the basic phone market.

"While the lack of compelling hardware innovation marginally extended replacement cycles in 2013, we've witnessed an upgrade path in the emerging markets," said Zimmerman.

"Latin America, the Middle East and Africa, Asia/Pacific and Eastern Europe have all upgraded their phones, which will help to compensate for mature market weakness in the near term."

(In 2013, sales in mature markets helped the smartphone market pass the significant milestone of more than 1 billion units, the lion's share of them running Android and iOS.)

While mobile users have experimented, moving from phones to phablets, or PCs to tablets, this year they'll begin settling in, said the report.

"Tablet substitution of notebooks will start to dissipate from this year onwards as consumers and businesses align the right device with the right usage pattern," said Gartner Research Director Ranjit Atwal.

"As they do this," Atwal continued, "we will see where dedicated devices (such as tablets) or hybrid devices (detachable or convertible devices) fit in the overall portfolio of devices."

Microsoft announced March 27 that it will offer Office applications for Apple's iPad. (Read-only versions will be free, while full versions will require a subscription to Office 365.) The move could influence many a user's decision to use the iPad over a hybrid, like the Microsoft Surface.

Gartner expects tablet shipments to rise from 2013's 195.4 million to 270.7 million this year and 349.1 million in 2015.

Shipments of ultramobiles (such as hybrid devices) are expected to rise from 2013's 21.1 million to 37.2 million in 2014 and 62 million in 2015.

PCs—both desktops and laptops—are expected to fall to 276.7 million this year, from 2013's 296.1 million, and continue to decline to 263 million in 2015. Mobile phones, by contrast, will climb from 2013's 1.8 billion to 1.9 billion in 2014 and nearly 2 billion in 2015.

The Android operating system is expected to enjoy the most aggressive growth, shipping on 1.2 billon units in 2014 (up from 2013's nearly 880 million). Mac and iOS-running devices are headed for shipments of 286.4 million units (up from 241.4 million), and Windows device shipments will grow to 339.1 million, from 2013's 325.1 million.

As the overall device market begins to saturate, Gartner expects vendors to experience more pressure on their margins.

"While the trend of declining prices is inevitable, consumers increasingly value other features in a device," said Atwal. "For example, new tablet users look for smaller screens and greater portability, while current tablet users look for better connectivity in their tablet replacements."

Apple—in a move thought to be largely about margins—recently reintroduced its fourth-generation iPad (at the price of its old iPad 2) and added an 8GB iPhone 5C to its lineup, thereby reducing the price of entry to the brand (if even only slighty) in emerging markets.