Smartphone sales see significant drop in 2017

Smartphone sales fell last year, in another sign that the market could finally be in decline.

The latest figures from analyst firm IDC found that device shipments were down 0.5% across the world during 2017 – the first such decline since the smartphone became a recognized product.

IDC blamed the decrease on a number of factors, including increasing market saturation in China, where sales fell 5%, but also on the fact that truly original smartphone design and differentiation was rare during 2017.

2018 will be better

Overall, 1.46 billion devices were shipped during 2017, the vast majority of which (1.24 billion) ran Google's Android OS. Apple iOS devices made up most of the remainder, with the company seeing 0.2% growth compared to 2016.

However, IDC expects that 2018 will see a return to growth as consumers flock to upgrade to the latest devices after a dispiriting selection last year. It's forecasting that continued single-digit growth will push the market to around 1.68 billion units a year by 2022.

It expects 2018 to be the year when phablets outsell regular smartphones, and that the following year will see the first 5G-ready devices hit the market.

“To keep up with the increasing demand for the new AI, AR/VR, contextually aware, and 5G functionalities headed to the market, we expect growth to come from improvements in overall core functions in the near term," said IDC's Anthony Scarsella. 

"Improvements in speed, power, battery life and general performance will be critical in driving growth at a worldwide level as the smartphone evolves into a true all-in-one tool. Although these types of improvements seem to arrive each year, delivering it more affordably will carry even greater significance to consumers as many highly competitive emerging markets remain crucial in driving growth throughout the forecast period."

Mike Moore
Deputy Editor, TechRadar Pro

Mike Moore is Deputy Editor at TechRadar Pro. He has worked as a B2B and B2C tech journalist for nearly a decade, including at one of the UK's leading national newspapers and fellow Future title ITProPortal, and when he's not keeping track of all the latest enterprise and workplace trends, can most likely be found watching, following or taking part in some kind of sport.