AT&T and Verizon both nailed big numbers in their earnings reports this week, driven by smartphone sales. But new reports suggest a bleaker future for smartphone growth, which has dipped to its slowest growth rate since the fall of 2009. Could the smartphone market finally be hitting a saturation point - or is this just more fallout from global economic woes?
Smartphone Sales Growth Halved
Strategy Analytics, which tracks total global smartphone numbers, has released its 2012 second quarter report showing a much slower growth rate in global smartphone shipments. Sales are up 32.2% annually to 146.1 million units in Q2 2012. That sounds pretty good, except when you consider that at this time last year, 2Q 2011 smartphone annual growth was running at 77.1%.
The mobile analytics firm pegs “a volatile global economy, maturing penetration of smartphones among contract mobile subscribers, and some Apple fans holding off purchases in anticipation of a new iPhone 5 model later this year” as reasons for the slowest growth rate since Q3 2009.
Waiting For The iPhone 5
During the Apple earnings call Tuesday, Apple CFO Peter Oppenheimer indicated that anticipation about the upcoming iPhone 5 (or whatever Apple decides to call it) is affecting the company’s iPhone sales.
“We’re reading the same speculation about a new iPhone as you are, and we think this has caused some delay in purchasing,” Oppenheimer said on the call.
For its part, AT&T and Verizon aren’t reporting any such slowdown. Almost 62%, or 43.1 million, of AT&T’s postpaid subscribers are now using smartphones. Verizon has 44.4 million smartphone subscribers, half of its 88.8 million wireless postpaid subscription base.
The iPhone 5 speed bump, if it is a significant factor to curtailing smartphone growth, is only a temporary problem - solved when Apple releases its next device. Digging a little into Strategy Analytics' numbers, though, reveals that Apple may face a bigger problem.
Market Share Shifts
Last year at this time, Apple just barely led global smartphone market share at 18.4% to Samsung’s 18.3%. Nokia was not too far back at 15.1% of the market. What a difference a year makes: this year’s report has Samsung dominating at 34.6% of the global market (nearly double its Q2 2011 share), with Apple falling a bit to 17.8%, and Nokia’s share getting more than halved to 7.0%.
Operating systems were not broken out in the report, but presumably much of Samsung’s growth came in Android phones, while Nokia’s smartphones run Symbian and Windows Phone 7. Smartphone shipments aren’t the only stat to factor in when monitoring platform success, but this news doesn’t spur confidence in Microsoft’s plans to address the mobile sector.
Feature Phone Growth Falls Flat
The overall slowdown isn’t just limited to smartphones: global mobile handset stats from Strategy Analytics show that handset shipments grew a mere 1.1% annually to reach 362 million units in Q2 2012. At this time last year, the annual rate of growth was 11.9%, ten times better than this quarter’s performance.
“Ongoing macroeconomic challenges in mature markets like North America and Western Europe, tighter operator upgrade policies, and shifting consumer tastes were among the key reasons why global mobile phone shipments grew just 1% annually to reach 362 million units in Q2 2012,” said Alex Spektor, Associate Director at Strategy Analytics.
Samsung was still the market leader for global handsets, with 25.7% of the market. Nokia’s huge feature phone presence put the beleaguered company in second place with 23.1%, with Apple still in third place with 7.2% of the global market.
Looking For Revenue in New Places
With the brakes slammed on global phone growth, phone carriers around the world may no longer be able to rely so much on subscriber growth to drive revenue.
These phone slowdowns may have already driven searches for new revenue streams, such as Verizon’s new data plans that squeeze more revenue from smartphone customers.
Facing flat customers growth, additional creative ways to part customers from their money are likely on the way.