Emerging Markets to Drive Smartphone Sales (AAPL, GOOG, NOK, MSFT, RIMM)

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China, India, and Brazil represent the strongest market opportunities for smartphone makers for the period form 2012 through 2016. International Data Corp. (IDC) says that China, which has overtaken the US as the smartphone market share leader already, will widen its lead this year and be the undisputed market leader by 2016.

The IDC report does not name specific vendors, but Apple Inc. (NASDAQ: AAPL), Google Inc. (NASDAQ: GOOG), Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK), Microsoft Corp. (NASDAQ: MSFT), and Research in Motion Ltd. (NASDAQ: RIMM) comprise a list of the usual suspects, along with HTC Corp., Samsung Electronics, and a few others.

There is a caveat, though, and that is cost:

Smartphones still represent a significant investment for consumers in many countries. This fact was acknowledged by a number of industry executives at the recent Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, who stressed the need for low-cost devices – as low as sub-US$50 – to spur widespread adoption. Another notable barrier to adoption is the cost of a monthly data plan. To realize the full potential of emerging markets, smartphone vendors need to develop low-cost smartphones that provide a full, robust experience while mobile operators will need to creatively subsidize device cost and data plans.

IDC notes that Android-based phones at a sub-$200 price point were popular in China during 2011 and are expected to continue growth in 2012 as prices drop. In India, HTC and Samsung did well in 2011, but coming low-cost competition from domestic makers will drive down costs and could change the playing field. Brazil already claims more than one mobile phone for every person in the country, and smartphone penetration could depend on carriers offering prepaid plans, which are very popular in the country.

The IDC press release is available here.

Paul Ausick