Though feature phones have passed out of style in western markets, the low-cost devices are still very popular in many parts of the world. Even that is set to change in the near future, however, as consumers in emerging markets flock to low-end smartphones priced to compete with feature phones.
Market research firm Gartner this week issued a report showing that smartphone sales topped those of feature phones for the first year ever. The firm estimates that 968 million smartphones were sold (to customers) during 2013. This number represents an over 42% increase from smartphone sales in 2012 and accounts for nearly 54% of all mobile phone sales last year.
Though the smartphone market is still growing significantly, Gartner, like other analysts, sees the market's growth slowing. This is largely due to market saturation in established markets such as the U.S. and Europe. Much of the smartphone market's growth over the next few years is predicted to come from emerging markets such as China, Brazil, and India.
Another factor could be that modern smartphones are simply good enough to perform all the tasks consumers might want, slowing the rapid upgrade cycles seen over previous years.
"Mature markets face limited growth potential as the markets are saturated with smartphone sales, leaving little room for growth with declining feature phone market and a longer replacement cycle," said Anshul Gupta, principal research analyst at Gartner. "Lack of compelling hardware innovation has further exacerbated replacement cycles for high-end smartphones in 2013 because consumers don't find enough reasons to upgrade."
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