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IDC: This year will be the first year that smartphones outsell feature phones

The analysts at IDC are predicting that 2013 will be the first year where smartphones outsell feature phones. Cheap Chinese Android devices are to thank.
March 4, 2013

The bean counters at IDC have just published a prediction that we’re not going to dispute: Smartphones are going to outsell feature phones in 2013. They say that 50.1% of the mobile phones sold this year will run some sort of smart operating system, and that by 2017 that number will hit 66%.

What’s responsible for this shift? It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure it out. Smartphones used to be painfully expensive devices that were only sold in Western markets where operators offered subsidies. But gradually, thanks to the relentless pace of technological innovation, people today can buy a device with the same specifications as the Nexus One for less than $200. You could probably find a single core 1 GHz Android phone with a 5 megapixel camera for even less than that actually.

Which country is the biggest consumer of smartphones? Again, easy answer: China. There are more people living in China than there are in Europe and the United States combined. Many of those people starting to climb up the socioeconomic ladder, and they can now afford a smartphone, whereas before it was just a flight of fancy.

In the number two spot is America, but it’s nowhere near China. IDC says China will buy over 301 million smartphones this year. America on the other hand, “just” 137.5 million. Granted, many of the devices that will be sold in America will be subsidized superphones, whereas in China they’ll be sub $200 smartphones from local players, but still, a smartphone is a smartphone.

What operating system is going to power a majority of these smartphones? Android, of course, but you already knew that. People cry about Android fragmentation all the time, but it’s because of fragmentation that $99 Android smartphones exist in emerging economies.

Should Google be scared of a so called “cheap” iPhone? We’ll just have to wait and see.