Large-Screen Trend Continues, as Vendors Struggle to Differentiate

Smartphones with screens up to 5.6″ will become mainstream this year, says GfK. The prediction follows a spike in sales of larger handsets in 2014, as consumers replaced their older 4″ and 4.5″ smartphones.

5″ – 5.6″ unit shipments rose 150% YoY last year, and robust shipments are expected to continue. GfK predicts that worldwide smartphone shipment growth will reach 14% this year, to almost 1.4 billion units. Last year, total shipments exceeded 1.2 billion units, with sales valued at $381.1 billion.

The 14% figure is weaker than 2014’s 23% growth, due to rising penetration in developed markets. GfK analyst Kevin Walsh said that momentum would mainly come from emerging markets this year, forecasting that sales in APAC and MEA will rise 33%.

Gartner analyst Annette Zimmerman spoke recently on a similar topic, with predictions of what will be next for the smartphone market. She said that it is becoming harder for companies to differentiate their products (see LG: No Change Coming in Smartphone Form Factor); last year the focus was on larger screens and imaging capabilities.

Price leaders, such as Chinese whitebox vendors, will continue to do well from growing smartphone demand in emerging markets. Gartner believes that the smartphone installed base in LATAM and Sub-Saharan Africa is 50% and 30%, respectively; a sizeable opportunity for vendors targeting the upgrade market.

Zimmerman also made comments about wearables. She said that Gartner expects these devices to grow 38% YoY in 2015, to 70 million units. However, they are not going to replace the smartphone in the next five years, at least. 2015 will be an interesting year for wearables, with the opportunity to grow in double digits in the long term. Gartner has forecast sales of 514 million units in 2020.

The Apple Watch will trigger more wearable awareness in the near future. Other vendors will have to develop more attractive products to compete.