2019 could mark the steepest decline in the history of smartphone shipments as customers cling to their handsets for longer.
This is one of the gloomier forecasts from Gartner today as it outlined estimates for devices sales, predicting that PCs and phones will fall by 3.3 per cent year-on-year to 2.2 billion units globally.
Smartphone sales dipped in Q1, with Samsung and Apple feeling the pinch, and there won't be any growth for the year as a whole if Gartner is right. Phones are touted to shrink 3.74 per cent to 1.74 billion.
"If mobile phones don't provide significant new utility, efficiency or experiences, users won't upgrade them, and will consequently increase these devices' lifespans," said research director Ranjit Atwal.
Users currently hang onto their phones for 2.6 years on average but this is set to extend to almost 2.9 years by 2023, said Gartner. Apple CEO Tim Cook reported the same pattern last autumn.
Cooked brushed off suggestions that Apple had priced its flagship phones – well in excess of £1,000 – out of the market. However, price cuts in markets across the world indicate otherwise.
Samsung too has been hit hard by the slowdown in phones sales, but due to the nature of its business, the focus has been on Sammy's chip division, which, though it generated 75 per cent of the group's profit in 2018, is in the doldrums due to weakened demand from smartphone makers and cloud providers.
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One boon many phone makers are clinging to is 5G, but Gartner reckons just 7 per cent of global comms providers will have a "commercially viable" wireless 5G service by 2020. Vodafone and others have launched 5G-enabled smartphones so far in 2019.
Atwal said: "In 2020, 5G-enabled phones will represent 6 per cent of total sales of phones. As 5G service coverage increases, user experience will improve and prices will decrease. The leap will occur in 2023 when we expect 5G phones will account for 51 per cent of phone sales."
As for the classic PC market, Gartner estimates sales of traditional desktops and notebooks will wither in 2019 to 187.2 million from 195.3 million in 2018. Premium models mark the only bright spot where sales are forecast to jump by 5.4 million units to 69.8 million. Basic and utility models will shrink to 146.1 million from 149.6. All this means that computing devices will contract by 1.5 per cent.
Assuming Gartner is right. As Isaac Asimov once said: "Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won't come in."
It is safe to assume further device forecasts in 2019 from Gartner, IDC and the rest of the companies that make their money from such things. ®