Smartphone Sales Top 1 Billion Worldwide for the First Time: IDC

The worldwide smartphone market reached yet another milestone, having shipped more than 1 billion units in a single year for the first time.

In the worldwide mobile phone market (inclusive of smartphones), vendors shipped 1.8 billion units, up 4.8 percent from the 1.7 billion units shipped 2012, with Samsung the dominant manufacturer, according to IT research firm IDC.

The worldwide smartphone market reached yet another milestone, having shipped more than 1 billion units in a single year for the first time, up 38.4 percent from the 725.3 million units in 2012.

"The sheer volume and strong growth attest to the smartphone's continued popularity in 2013," Ramon Llamas, research manager with IDC's Mobile Phone team, said in a statement. "Total smartphone shipments reached 494.4 million units worldwide in 2011, and doubling that volume in just two years demonstrates strong end-user demand and vendor strategies to highlight smartphones."

Smartphones accounted for 55.1 percent of all mobile phone shipments in 2013, up from the 41.7 percent of all mobile phone shipments in 2012. In the fourth quarter of 2013 (4Q13), vendors shipped a total of 284.4 million smartphones worldwide, up 24.2 percent from the 229 million units shipped in the fourth quarter of 2012.

Samsung maintained a sizable double-digit lead over the next vendor, Apple, but even with sustained demand for its Galaxy S III, S4 and Note models, as well as its deep selection of mid-range and entry-level models, the company realized a decline compared to the previous quarter.

Apple, meanwhile, posted record shipment volume during the fourth quarter of 2013, driven primarily by the addition of multiple countries offering the iPhone 5S and 5C, and sustained demand from its initial markets that saw these models launch at the end of the third quarter.

The report noted the company’s entry into the Chinese market through a partnership with China Mobile could allow the iPhone maker to better compete with Samsung.

"Among the top trends driving smartphone growth are large screen devices and low cost," Ryan Reith, program director with IDC's Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker, said in a statement. "Of the two, I have to say that low cost is the key difference maker. Cheap devices are not the attractive segment that normally grabs headlines, but IDC data shows this is the portion of the market that is driving volume. Markets like China and India are quickly moving toward a point where sub-$150 smartphones are the majority of shipments, bringing a solid computing experience to the hands of many."

Although Huawei maintained its No. 3 position worldwide and attained the highest year-on-year increase among the leading vendors, the company faces a crowded group of potential competitors within striking distance.

Those include Lenovo, which despite having no presence in North America or Western Europe, finished the quarter in the No. 4 position, and LG finished just behind Lenovo and edged out ZTE for the No. 5 position, with just five million units separating the two companies.