Smartphones Push Global Phone Market

Smartphones Push Global Phone Market

High-end smartphones pushed the global growth of phones by nearly 20 percent from a year earlier, according to research firm IDC, indicating that the industry shows no sign of slowing.

The first-quarter expansion was fueled by cheaper smartphones from Asia, Middle East, Africa and Latin America.

“Phone makers and carriers are making smartphones affordable to a wider variety of people, which has helped drive the market to new heights,” said Ramon Llamas, IDC’s senior research analyst.

But they’re also eating away at feature phone sales.

“Feature phones are under tremendous pressure from smartphones,” Llamas said. “Even popular quick-messaging devices, once a bright spot within the feature phone market, appear to be losing steam as smartphones gain popularity.”

The top five phone makers — Nokia, Samsung, LG, Apple and ZTE — have all capitalized on the worldwide appetite for smartphones, boasting healthy feature phone sales, according to IDC.

The research firm also noted that smartphone-specialists, like HTC, even outpaced the overall market, indicating opportunities for companies to carve out a space for themselves on the strength of smartphones.

The growth is also solidifying Google’s Android platform into the top smartphone operating system. Android’s open-source nature, which allows it to be adapted by various phone makers, is being used in a broad range of devices to reach a wider range of consumers.

But Microsoft’s Windows Phone platform may also ride the wave of growth. Windows, which will be widely used in Nokia phones starting next year, is the centerpiece of a strategic alliance between the two struggling companies.

Nokia, which remains the world’s largest phone maker by volume, will help Windows Phone gain market share. But those handsets won’t reach market until 2012.

In the meantime, IDC expects mobile phone growth to be driven almost entirely by smartphones through 2015. Companies like Nokia, whose volumes are driven by feature phones, must shift further into smartphones or consolidate their part of the market.

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