Consumer electronics sales typically get a boost during the holiday season, leaving little demand for the following quarter of the new year. The worldwide smartphone market began this year with an expected retrenchment from holiday quarter shipment volumes, but still posted a year-over-year increase in the first quarter of 2014 (1Q14).
According to the the latest global market study by International Data Corporation (IDC), vendors shipped a total of 281.5 million smartphones worldwide, that's up 28.6 percent from the 218.8 million units in 1Q13 but down -2.8 percent from the 289.6 million units shipped in 4Q13.
The results beat IDC's forecast of 267.2 million units for the first quarter of 2014 by 5.3 percent.
In the worldwide mobile phone market (inclusive of smartphones), vendors shipped 448.6 million units -- that's up 3.9 percent from the 431.8 million units shipped 1Q13 but down -9.0 percent from the 492.8 million units shipped in 4Q13.
This is 0.6 percent lower than the 451.3 million units IDC had forecast for the quarter. Smartphones accounted for 62.7 percent of all mobile phone shipments in 1Q14 -- that's up from the 50.7 percent of all mobile phone shipments in 1Q13.
"The first quarter of the year typically brings sequential retrenchment from the holiday spending of the previous quarter," says Ramon Llamas, research manager at IDC.
He added, "The small difference between the two quarters points to sustained strong demand, driven by emerging markets, low-cost devices, and the proliferation of 4G networks. If this is how we start the year, then we can look forward to another record-breaking quarter at the end of the year."
The face of the smartphone market is changing rapidly to reflect the rise of its largest market, China, where a record 40 percent of the smartphones shipped worldwide in 1Q14 were bound to Chinese consumers.
In a quarter where most global shipments declined sequentially, China bucked the trend. The market benefited from its seasonal Lunar New Year uptick, greater emphasis on 4G devices following the December TD-LTE network launch, and the official launch of Apple at China Mobile resulted in volumes a third higher than 4Q13 levels.
The Global Market Outlook for Smartphones
IDC expects total smartphone shipment volumes to reach 1.2 billion units in 2014, up 19.3 percent year over year from the 1.0 billion units shipped in 2013. This marks a slowdown from the 39.2 percent growth seen in 2013.
The lower growth rate for 2014 should not be interpreted as a sign that the market has come as far as it can. In fact, there will be plenty to observe. Apple's entry into China is only the start of where it has yet to go.
The introduction of Nokia's Android-powered X-series as well as Microsoft's recently completed acquisition of Nokia marks a new era for both companies.
Numerous companies outside of Samsung and Apple, fueled by acquisitions and new strategies, will make a run at position and market share. In all, there are multiple dynamic trends in the making, which will make for an interesting year.