The booming appetite for smartphones will not be enough for the mobile handset market to report its lowest annual growth rate in three years.
Slow economic conditions have been blamed for the sector reporting a growth rate of 1.4%, according to projections by researchers IDC. Manufacturers will ship 1.7 billion mobile phones this year. Smartphone volumes will hit 224.5 million in the fourth quarter, a record drive by consumer demand and up 39.5% on last year. Across 2012 as a whole, smartphone shipments will grow 45.1% to 717.5 million units, driven by high subsidies, particularly in developed markets, and growing availability of smartphones under $250.
Kevin Restivo, senior research analyst at IDC, said: 'Sluggish economic conditions worldwide have cast a pall over the mobile phone market this year. 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 S III, in addition to lower-cost Android powered smartphones shipped to China and other high-growth emerging markets.'
Looking ahead to 2016, IDC said Android will be the OS market leader, although its share will fall from 68.3% in 2012 to 63.8%. It said partnerships with Samsung and the 'resurgent' Sony and LG will drive sales and its share with grow annually by 16.3%. Apple's iOS will continue its position in number two, with its share predicted to grow from 18.8% to 19.1% by 2016. More deals with carriers and the device being sold in different markets will drive volume, IDC said, but it warned Apple should consider selling a lower cost iPhone if it was ever to overtake Android.
Windows Phone is predicted to have the biggest growth rate, albeit from a low starting point. IDC predicted it will have a 11.4% share by 2016, compared to 2.6% now. It said: 'With more vendors releasing more devices aimed at multiple segments, sales associates will be better positioned to tell a compelling Windows Phone story and to explain the value of Windows Phone's differentiated experience compared to market leaders Android and iOS.'
Microsoft's OS will overtake BlackBerry as the world's third most popular OS by 2016. BlackBerry's share is predicted to fall from 4.7% to 4.1% during this period although sales will grow by 14.6% each year. IDC said the success of its forthcoming BB10 will partly rely on sales advocacy. It said high growth emerging markets could deliver for BlackBerry.
Ramon Llamas, research manager at IDC, said: '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. 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.'
Editor: Graeme Neill