Smartphone market set for 'biggest ever decline'

(Image credit: Smart Pixels)

Smartphone sales are set to fall by 3.2 per cent in 2019 – the largest decline in the history of the category, new figures from Gartner have claimed.

The forecasts are similar to those published by other analysts and reflect the lengthening lifespan of devices and a perceived lack of innovation within the market.

Gartner says the technology in devices has improved so much that consumers are still happy even after a typical 24-month minimum term contract has ended.

Smartphone sales

The number of mobile phones (which includes smartphones and mobile phones) sold in 2019 is expected to be 1.74 billion, down from 1.81 billion last year, but growth is expected to return in 2020.

“Consumers [are] holding onto their phones longer, given the limited attraction of new technology,” said Ranjit Atwal, senior research director at Gartner. “Unless the devices provide significant new utility, efficiency or experiences, users do not necessarily want to upgrade their phones.”

Device manufacturers are experimenting with new form factors, such as foldables, and enhancing imaging capabilities in a bid to entice customers to upgrade. But the next big driver of ales is set to be 5G.

Gartner says the proportion of 5G devices will increase from 10 per cent in 2020 to 56 per cent in 2023 – reflecting the staggered rollout of next-generation mobile networks around the world.

“More than a dozen service providers have launched commercial 5G services in a handful of markets so far,” said added Atwal. “To ensure smartphone sales pick up again, mobile providers are starting to emphasize 5G performance features, like faster speeds, improved network availability and enhanced security. As soon as providers better align their early performance claims for 5G with concrete plans, we expect to see 5G phones account for more than half of phone sales in 2023.”

Steve McCaskill is TechRadar Pro's resident mobile industry expert, covering all aspects of the UK and global news, from operators to service providers and everything in between. He is a former editor of Silicon UK and journalist with over a decade's experience in the technology industry, writing about technology, in particular, telecoms, mobile and sports tech, sports, video games and media.