Global smartphone demand rose but revenues dipped due to price declines in 2015 – GfK

Global smartphone demand hit 368 million units in Q4 2015, up 14 percent quarter-on-quarter and up six percent year-on-year. However, revenues plateaued year-on-year at US $115 billion due to average selling price (ASP) declines of six percent year-on-year for Q4 2015. In the full year 2015, 1.3 billion smartphone units were sold, an increase of seven percent year-on-year. However, this unit growth was partially offset by a decline in global average selling price (ASP) of two percent year-on-year, which caused revenues to increase on a slightly lower level of only five percent year-on-year to US $399 billion.

Smartphone sales Q4 2014 vs Q4 2015

Units sold (mil.) Sales value (bn. USD)
Q4/14 Q4/15 Y/Y % change Q4/14 Q4/15 Y/Y % change
Latin America 36.1 31.5 -12.7% 9.6 7.4 -23.3%
Central & Eastern Europe 21.4 22.2 3.6% 5.1 4.5 -10.8%
North America 57.0 56.4 -1.1% 25.6 23.9 -6.5%
Emerging APAC 41.5 50.0 20.5% 7.5 8.1 8.0%
Middle East & Africa 37.7 42.1 11.7% 10.8 10.2 -4.8%
Western Europe 40.0 42.1 5.2% 17.2 17.0 -0.9%
China 95.1 106.6 12.0% 28.8 33.5 16.3%
Developed APAC 17.3 17.4 0.3% 11.0 10.6 -3.8%
Source: GfK Point of Sales (POS) Measurement data in 90+ markets, Jan. 2016

Kevin Walsh, director of trends and forecasting at GfK comments, “Despite a record fourth quarter – and a strong performance in 2015 in general – there are mixed results across countries. Local factors, rather than regional and industry trends, are increasingly driving markets. Diverging economic trends, device saturation, mass market adoption, politics, social change and even sport have an impact on smartphone demand and prices at country level.”

Emerging APAC remains the primary growth driver in the global smartphone market, with 21 percent year-on-year unit growth in Q4 2015.

On a country level, India is a key driver with unit growth of 34 percent year-on-year, driven by its dominant low-end (sub-US$100) price band segment, which saw unit growth accelerate to 76 percent year-on-year. There is still plenty of room for smartphone demand from first time buyers, since penetration of the sub-US$100 segment stood at only 24 percent in the last quarter of the year.

China: growth accelerated in Q4 2015

After a return to a moderate growth in 3Q 2015 (following a series of four negative quarterly year-on-year developments that started in 3Q 2014), China saw smartphone growth accelerate to 12 percent year-on-year in 4Q 2015. In this period a record high of 106.6m units was reached. With a volume growth of 11m units, China contributed half of the global growth in the last quarter.

There were year-on-year improvements in demand across all price band segments, with a noticeable shift to high-end (US$500+) devices. This segment saw market share increase to 18 percent, up from just below 15 percent in the prior quarter. The result was an increase in ASP of four percent year-on-year to US$314, and a 16 percent increase in year-on-year revenue to US $33 billion.

The shift towards LTE-enabled, larger-screen devices continues. 5”+ handsets accounted for 71 percent of smartphones sold in the quarter, up from 53 percent in the same period of 2014. LTE-enabled smartphone share has almost reached saturation levels. GfK forecasts unit growth will slow to 17 percent in 2016, considerably down from 248 percent in 2015. Competitively priced local brands continue to gain share in the country, accounting for 75 percent of smartphone demand in Q4 2015, up from 69 percent in Q4 2014.

GfK forecasts a return to moderate growth of three percent in China in 2016 – following the two percent year-on-year decline seen in 2015. This is likely to be helped by an expected increase in operator subsidies.

MEA: Egypt is the star performer

Despite a slight slow-down in growth, smartphone unit demand in the MEA grew 12 percent year-on-year in the quarter. Most countries in the region saw increases, but Egypt stood out with demand growing 27 percent year-on-year.

Latin America: Consumers move towards low-end devices

Smartphone demand in Latin America continued to decline in Q4 2015, dropping 13 percent year-on-year. This was dragged down by macroeconomic weakness in Brazil, which caused demand to decline 26 percent year-on-year in the country. ASP in the region declined 12 percent year-on-year as a result of a shift in consumer preference towards low-end devices. This fall in demand, combined with the lower ASP, resulted in a revenue drop of 23 percent year-on-year to US$7bn.

Unit demand in Developed APAC remained stable in Q4 2015 following a three percent year-on-year decline in the previous quarter. Smartphone demand in South Korea returned to growth (up eight percent year-on-year) for the first time since Q4 2013. This was helped by easy comparisons with the weak performance in Q4 2014. However, regional growth was offset by a six percent decline in year-on-year demand in Japan.


Smartphones: 2015 sales vs 2016 forecast

Units sold (mil.) Sales value (bn. USD)
2015 sales 2016 forecast Y/Y % change 2015 sales
2016 forecast
Y/Y % change
Latin America 109.7 108.8 -0.8% 27.0 25.5 -5.7%
Central & Eastern Europe 73.2 77.9 6.5% 14.8 14.5 -1.5%
North America 190.7 193.7 1.6% 77.9 77.2 -0.9%
Emerging APAC 185.2 227.0 22.6% 30.7 33.1 7.9%
Middle East & Africa 162.4 187.7 15.6% 42.0 43.3 3.0%
Western Europe 137.1 142.3 3.8% 53.6 52.7 -1.6%
China 385.3 397.2 3.1% 115.8 117.8 1.7%
Developed APAC 64.8 65.5 1.1% 37.5 37.2 -0.7%
Source: GfK Point of Sales (POS) Measurement data in 90+ markets for calendar year 2015 and GfK forecasts for calendar year 2016, as at January 2016.

The complete report is available here.

GfK forecasts end-demand consumer purchases rather than manufacturer shipments. Market sizes are built up by point-of-sale (POS) tracking in 90+ markets with updates on a weekly and monthly basis. For the US, GfK employs proprietary market modeling and consumer research rather than POS to produce its market forecasts. Values are based on unsubsidized retail pricing. Data is available quarterly and the next data set is due in May 2016.