Mobile phone sales are rising, showing improvement in fourth-quarter shipments despite an overall decline in 2023, according to the newly released International Data Corporation (IDC) Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker. Notably, iPhones have performed better than other devices, and the adoption of 5G technology is anticipated to boost sales further.
Global smartphone shipments are forecast to jump 7.3 per cent in the fourth quarter compared to the year-earlier period. For all of 2023, smartphone shipments are expected to decline 3.5 per cent to 1.16 billion devices, but that's a rosier forecast than the 4.7 per cent drop predicted earlier in the year. IDC says the market recovery will continue in 2024 with 3.4 per cent growth.
“Apple has been more resilient during this macro crisis, as its consumers tend to be more affluent, so not impacted as much by economic challenges but also because of massive trade-ins and financing which are usually focused on premium products, making them more accessible and affordable,” Nabila Popal, research director with IDC's Mobility and Consumer Device Trackers, said.“ Also, Android players mostly play in the low-end segments, and most of their volume comes from emerging markets and China, the regions hardest hit during the crisis.”
Mobile phone prices to rise
In 2023, the average price of smartphones is expected to go up by 5.5 per cent to US$438. The increase is part of a trend where prices have been rising for four years, mainly because more expensive, premium phones are selling well everywhere. But, the price hike is likely to slow down and might drop to US$396 by 2027, although that's still higher than what was previously forecast.
Looking at the types of smartphone systems this year, iOS is doing slightly better than others despite challenging market conditions, with a slight growth of 0.6 per cent, reaching its highest market share ever at 19.6% this year. On the other hand, Android phones are expected to see a decline of 4.4 per cent. In the long run, Android will grow faster than iOS and is expected to hold about 81.3 per cent of the market by the end of the forecast period, according to IDC.
While Android remains the most popular smartphone OS worldwide by a considerable margin, the iPhone has always had a stronger hold over the US market, Steven Athwal, the managing director at The Big Phone Store, said in an interview.
“When a new iPhone is released, it may be compared side by side with a Samsung phone, or a Google phone, or maybe even a newer brand such as Nothing,” he added. “Whenever a flagship Android phone is released, no matter what the brand, it is almost always compared to the iPhone.”
Recovery in the tech market is happening at different speeds in different places, but it's evident in China, said Popal. People there are starting to buy more gadgets, mainly because they're excited about Huawei making a comeback. The uptick in interest will likely help the whole Android market in the long run.
Huawei has seen some positive developments recently. In the September quarter, the net profit for the Chinese tech giant more than doubled, thanks in part to the early sales of its Mate 60 Pro smartphone series. These phones, priced around US$1,200, have been a hit in China, selling 1.6 million units in just the first six weeks after their launch at the end of August.
Even though smartphone sales have been unimpressive this year, the report noted that the rise of 5G remains a highlight in the market. As 5G phones become more common in developed countries, their growth in emerging markets is expected to help the industry bounce back significantly next year and in the following years.
The report notes that global shipments of 5G smartphones will increase by 11 per cent in 2023 and 20 per cent in 2024. The proportion of 5G smartphones in the market is set to climb from 61 per cent in 2023 to 83 per cent by 2027. While the overall smartphone market is only expected to grow by a small annual rate of 1.4 per cent from 2022 to 2027, 5G phone shipments are anticipated to grow at a much stronger rate of 11.1 per cent during the same time frame.
Athwal said the reasons behind the widespread adoption of 5G are primarily due to market pressure. He noted that new iPhones will all be 5G capable, and any Android phone that wants to compete must also work with the 5G network.
“Using 5G hasn't really made anything faster for my phone - not in any way I've noticed,” he added. “I was already loading webpages and videos quickly enough with LTE that I wasn't noticing any lag. The differences are in the quality of video I can stream — my phone has a high-resolution screen, and the higher resolution videos need a faster connection.”
However, Athwal said 5G has made a big difference in tethering. He added that "using my phone as a Wi-Fi hotspot, 5G connections are fast enough that it almost feels like I'm using my Wi-Fi at home.”