According to a forecast update from the International Data Corporation (IDC) Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker, smartphone shipments are expected to grow 3.1% in 2016, which is a substantial slowdown from the 10.5% growth in 2015 and 27.8% in 2014.
Apple is expected to face its first down year for iPhone in 2016 with shipments dropping from 232 million in 2015 to 227 million in 2016, according to the research group. The expected decline of 2% year over year is a significant change from past years' growth and marks a pivotal moment for the company. IDC believes Apple can bring iPhone back to growth in 2017 and beyond supported by its early trade-in program as well as the lower cost iPhone SE.
It continues to make inroads in China with development in tier 1 cities and is actively trying to penetrate higher growth markets like India and Middle East. The larger screen iPhone 6 Plus and 6S Plus will continue to grow its share of all iPhones shipped, increasing from 26% in 2016 to 32% in 2020.
Smartphone shipments are expected to hit 1.48 billion in 2016 and grow to 1.84 billion in 2020. The new forecast is 2.6 percentage points lower than IDC's previous forecast for 2016 on the basis of the continued slowdown in mature markets and China.
IDC expects large markets like the United States, Western Europe, and China to see low single digit growth rates in 2016 while Japan and Canada are expected to contract by 6.4% and 6.9%, respectively. In all these markets, smartphone buying behavior is changing in many ways. In operator-driven markets the transition away from two year subsidized contracts toward monthly installment plans are slowly taking place. Meanwhile, many retail heavy markets are seeing a surge in the eTailer channel, better known as online marketplaces.
"Consumers everywhere are getting savvy about how and where they buy their smartphones, and this is opening up new doors for OEMs and causing some traditional channels to lose some control of the hardware flow," saysRyan Reith, program vice president with IDC's Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker. "Smartphones sold into eTailer channels grew 65% in 2015 and are expected to account for roughly 12% of smartphone shipments in 2016, up from just 4% in 2013. Consumers are having more say over which brands they want and at the same time able to bargain shop.”
Outside of the few remaining markets with low smartphone penetration, the focus has shifted toward trying to ensure that smartphone life cycles aren't extended further. IDC believes early trade-in programs, much like the one Apple is facilitating, as well as the broader range of cheap unlocked devices, will play a significant role in keeping mature market life cycles close to two years.
Devices powered by the Google operating system are expected to grow 6.2% in 2016 with 1.24 billion shipments, increasing to 1.57 billion in 2020. Android continues to be the dominant platform in most markets and with Microsoft's ongoing struggles with Windows Phone, it should remain the go-to platform for affordability.