Mobile network service providers have good reason to be optimistic about the current market outlook. The global mobile phone market is forecast to grow 7.3 percent year-over-year in 2013 -- that's a sharp rebound from the 1.2 percent growth experienced in 2012.
Strong demand for smartphones across all geographies will drive much of this growth as worldwide shipments are expected to surpass 1 billion units for the first time in a single year, according to the latest market study by International Data Corporation (IDC).
The overall mobile phone market is growing faster than previously forecast, thanks to a stronger-than-expected first half of the year driven by strong gains in emerging markets and the sub-$200 smartphone segment.
IDC previously projected 5.8 percent growth for the year. Vendors are now forecast to ship more than 1.8 billion mobile phones this year -- growing to over 2.3 billion mobile phones in 2017.
Worldwide smartphone shipments are forecast to grow 40.0 percent year over year to more than 1.0 billion units this year. High smartphone growth is the result of a variety of factors -- including steep device subsidies from carriers, especially in mature economic markets, as well as a growing array of sub-$200 smartphones. Total smartphone shipments are forecast to reach 1.7 billion units in 2017.
"Two years ago, the worldwide smartphone market flirted with shipping half a billion units for the first time – to double that in just two years highlights the ubiquity that smartphones have achieved," said Ramon Llamas, research manager at IDC.
Smartphones will represent virtually all of the mobile phone market in many of the world's most developed economies by the end of 2017. Aggressive carrier subsidies of handsets, falling prices, higher consumer awareness, and a vast array of devices will mean almost all phones shipped to the developed world will be smart.
However, smartphone shipment volume will be dominated by emerging markets, such as China, even though the percentage of smartphones to feature phones won’t be as high.
Underpinning the smartphone market is an evolving market for operating systems. IDC believes that Google Android and Apple iOS will remain the clear number one and two platforms, respectively. What remains to be seen is how the Microsoft Windows Phone and BlackBerry's respective futures will play out pending their recent announcements.
Windows Phone has inched ahead of BlackBerry during the first half of 2013, and IDC believes that will extend into the future. However, overall shipments will continue to trail those of Android and iOS.
Android remains the dominant smartphone operating system, a status that won't change even though its share will decline somewhat as the market matures and competition solidifies. The sheer volume of devices at a wide range of price points, combined with Google's backing and a growing application library, will keep Android in first place.
Samsung remains the world's top seller of Android-based smartphones, while the resurgence of LG and Sony have also contributed to its success in recent quarters.