Smartphone Sales Beat Sales Of Regular Cell Phones In 2013


For some time now, we’ve seen signs that sales of smartphones were beginning to dominate the cell phone market not just in the United States but throughout the world. In a new report, it would appear that we finally reached that point in 2013:

Watching the sales of smartphones and feature phones in recent years has felt similar to watching a Ferrari race a horse. You know the Ferrari is going to win, it’s just a matter of when.

Well, for smartphones, it looks as if it finally happened. On Thursday, Gartner, the research firm, said that in 2013 worldwide smartphone sales surpassed the sales of feature phones (typically, this means a regular cellphone) for the first time.

In total, the number of smartphones sold was close to a billion, reaching a record 968 million for 2013. This was up 42 percent from 2012. About 839 million feature phones were sold.

During the fourth quarter of 2013, Gartner said that 58 percent of mobile phone sales were smartphones.

Anshul Gupta, principal research analyst at Gartner, said in the report that most of the new smartphones sales were in less mature markets, including Latin America, the Middle East and Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe. Toward the end of the year, China also contributed significantly to the increase in smartphone sales as devices like Apple’s iPhonebecame available on China Mobile, China’s largest mobile carrier.

While the iPhone has been dominant in the United States for several years, Apple struggled to gain traction in China, where people have opted for less expensive smartphones, particularly those operating Google’s Android platform that can cost a fraction of the cost of an iPhone.

“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,” Mr. Gupta said. He added that there was a lack of “compelling hardware innovation” for existing customers to upgrade to new devices.

Leading the pack in smartphone sales was Samsung, which accounted for 58 percent of overall mobile phone purchases for the fourth quarter of last year, selling more than 83 million smartphones. This was up 44 percent from the year before.

While Apple was a distant second, selling 50 million smartphones during the fourth quarter, the company still broke earlier sales records. Apple sold a little over 43 million iPhones during the same period a year earlier, the report said.

One expects that these sales trends won’t continue forever. For one thing, as these phone become more ubiquitous and get into the hands of regular consumers we are likely see not as much eagerness to upgrade to the latest and greatest new smartphone that we have seen from early adopters. Partly, this is because we’ve reached a point where the “new” features that these phones offer are becoming less and less revolutionary, meaning that the compulsion to upgrade isn’t quite as strong as it might have been in the past. Additionally, carriers are becoming less and less generous with their upgrade options and some have even introduced plans that allow people to buy their phone outright without being tied to a contract. The price for that, of course, is that the consumer is paying close to full price for their phones rather than the heavily subsidized prices that you get if you tie yourself to a two year contract. If you’re doing that, you’re far less likely to upgrade as quickly as you might have been in the past. Nonetheless, it would appear that we’ve entered the era of smartphone dominance. What comes along to shake the market up the way the iPhone did is something only time will tell.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. PJ says:

    Smartphone Sales Beat Sales Of Regular Cell Phones In 2013

    We can all thank Google for that.

    If the cheapest smart phone would have cost the equivalent of $450 (the price of an unlocked iPhone 4S), this would never have happened. Sure, a cheap unlocked smart phone running Android isn’t quite the same experience as the three models Apple sells or an high end Android phone. But it still is a smart phone, and it allows people to do things that can’t be done with a regular cell phone.