Reality check! Smartphones still in minority

By on December 27, 2011
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No, really, smartphones still small percentage of mobile sales.

Most of you reading this own a smartphone or two, or three. Having a smartphone, regardless of brand, has become almost like a human right in large parts of the world and no doubt, smartphone sales are booming. IDC expects 472 smartphones to be sold worldwide this year, with Android and iOS being the two dominating platforms.

But even with booming smartphone sales, let’s not forget that smartphones are still a small part of all mobile phones in the world. You could be forgiven to think otherwise reading the headlines in magazines and tech websites.

Almost 6 billion mobile phone subscribers

The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) expects [PDF] 5.9 billion mobile phone subscribers worldwide in 2011. I know it’s a bit of apples and oranges, but this means only about 8% of all mobile handsets in the world are smartphones.

No doubt, this share will just keep increasing. IDC expects smartphone sales to almost double to 982 million by end of 2015. That’s a lot of smartphones.

But some of the functionality of smartphones, like GPS, web browsing and email has trickled down to another type of mobile phone, usually called feature phone.  In fact, over 70% of mobile handsets that shipped this year were feature phones. This number is expected to at least remain stable if not increase.

So as much as us tech writers want to talk about smartphones, when you read some headlines about record smartphone sales, think again and remember that however smart they are, they are just a small portion of the market.

What is it that makes a smartphone so, well, smart? I would imagine that most of us are lured by the big and bright screens, the fast processors, large storage capacity, fast mobile data connections, and more. To me what makes the smartphone smart is the apps.

But more than anything, for most customers, we’re probably lured by the idea of having the latest and greatest. That’s the way it so often is with tech, wouldn’t you say?

Switching to feature phone?

I can admit that I’ve thought about dumping my smartphone at times, instead going for the week-long battery life that a feature phone can offer, and often better voice quality as well. But as much as those things appeal to me, whenever I’ve tried to live with a feature phone, there’s something I’ve missed from the smartphone and I ended up switching back.

Right now, I am still in love with my iPhone 4S. It fulfills a range of roles, and has in some ways taken over what I do with a computer as well as tablet.

But a feature phone will beat it on several key points. And for all its wonderful features, the iPhone 4S, as well as all other smartphones, are still a small percentage of all mobile phones sold in the world.

That’s a reality worth keeping in mind.

Photo credit re-ality.


I write and talk too much about tech. You can find my personal blog at, my radio shows at, and me on Twitter as mnystedt.

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