China to Ship Majority of World’s Smartphones in 2012

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China is poised to become the world’s leader in smartphone shipments in 2012, according to recent research from IDC. With its sheer size, China nudged the US out of the lead by a hair, but is expected to continue to widen the gap as more of the developing country’s users sign on to the smartphone revolution.

The research firm predicted China will reach 20.7 percent of the world’s smartphone market this year, just ahead of the US’s 20.6 percent. While previous research had shown China taking the lead but then falling behind, IDC maintains this latest trend will only continue to snowball. By 2016, China is expected to leverage 20.2 percent of the global smartphone market, while the US will garner 15.3 percent.

“(China’s) smartphone shipments are expected to take a slim lead over the U.S. in 2012 before the gap widens in the coming years,” said Wong Tech Zhung, senior market analyst with IDC’s Asia/Pacific Client Devices team, in a statement. “There will be no turning back this leadership changeover.”

Meanwhile, India and Brazil are expected to be among the top 5 hottest smartphone markets by 2016, with India growing from its current position at seventh to become the third largest market, followed by Brazil, which currently ranks tenth.

The trends are clearly showing developing countries connecting to the Internet via the palm of your hand. The sheer size of these populations combined with a thirst for smarter technology creates a perfect storm of demand that will be close to rivaling the US.

“Demand for smartphones will also grow as urban and enterprise users mature in their handset preferences and usage,” says G. Rajeev, senior market analyst for mobile devices with IDC India. “Consumers are growing accustomed to higher data usage and using handsets for entertainment and other content, instead of just as a communication device.”

Yet costs will continue to be a challenge to these developing markets. The report notes that numerous industry heads at this year’s Mobile Conference in Barcelona stressed the need for affordable smartphones as low as $50 US to propel saturation. In Brazil, smartphones have dropped to below $300 with optional prepaid data plans, propelling the market with room to grow.

“Users in emerging markets seek more than simple voice telephony, and smartphones offer the ideal platform for mobile entertainment, social networking, and business usage as seen in developed markets,” said Ramon Llamas, senior research analyst with IDC.