SHANGHAI – The story of the mobile market globally in 2012 was the big surge in demand for smartphones in China. The big beneficiaries among smartphone chip suppliers were MediaTek and Spreadtrum.
The story of 2013 will continue to be the growing smartphone market, as the trend spreading far and wide, into India and Southeast Asia.
Leo Li, Chairman and CEO of Spreadtrum, told EE Times Monday (March 18), “We are so busy. We can’t keep up with the growing smartphone demand.” This might sound like a gratuitous remark, but Li actually means it.
Earlier this year, market research firm Canalys predicted that China will cement its lead as the world’s largest smartphone market in 2013, with the nation expected to sell 240 million smartphones, roughly one third of global shipments. In contrast, the United States, the world's second-largest smartphone market, is likely to absorb 125 million, the market research firm said.
However, the hot smartphones in China, India and elsewhere in Southeast Asia are different from those sold in the United States. U.S. models are “heavily influenced by Apple’s iPhones and Samsung’s Galaxy S3,” and their smartphone market is “much more mature and saturated,” explained Spreadtrum’s Li. In contrast, handsets purchased by China’s first-time smartphone buyers are cheaper, usually under $50 per handset, and feature typically a 3.5-inch screen. They run on an Android 2.1 operating system.
The story is similar in India, too. Eighty percent of handsets sold by Micromax, India’s leading mobile handset brand [in which Spreadtrum invested), are the low-end smartphones designed to work in India’s EDGE network, Li said.
As global smartphone chip suppliers like ST-Ericsson, Renesas Mobile, Marvell and Nvidia struggle to break into the high-end smartphone market dominated by Qualcomm and Apple, Spreadtrum and MediaTek, are having a field day in sharing what appears to be a wide-open mid- to low-end smartphone segment.
Notwithstanding the price, such low-end smartphones are nothing to be sneered at. Li touted their usefulness and high performance. Good examples are Spreadtrum’s 1GHz Android low-cost smartphone platforms such as SC8810 (TD-SCDMA) and SC6820 (EDGE/GPRS/GSM), said Li. While both are based on an integrated baseband/apps processor using a single ARM Cortex A5 core, they can drive low-end smartphones with performance as good as Apple’s iPhone 4, he claimed.
Wait. Is Li really talking about his single-core apps/baseband processor?
If there is a 50$ smartphone with decent build quality and reasonable user experience there would be market in the developed world as a second/backup phone. I would gladly buy one for backup. But the problem is that these devices, even though may be functional, lacks in build quality and UI, which makes it a pain to use them after using iOS or Samsung devices.
Why do you assume there is no demand for $50 phone outside China ? Cheap phones are in huge demands in developing countries such as India and Indonesia where per capita income are still very low compared to developed countries such as US and Western Europe.
When a new product starts, people will typically tolerate size and price. Towards market matureness, consumers will demand variety which include different size and form factor. In particular, in the Asian and European market, consumers will demand smaller phones, for ease of carrying, and different look, for uniqueness. The cell phone market development followed the trend from Motorola DynaTAC 8000X to Motorola MicroTAC; then, comes the Nokia 8850 with style.
Consumers are price sensitive, in particular, once the smartphone becomes a commodity.
There is no doubt the market is moving towards $50.00 smartphone. Nonetheless, the high price tag smartphone will still be around.
Junko - Is the $50 price really unsubsidized? That's how I read your article and if so that's amazing. A year ago people didn't expect to see $50 smartphones for much longer.
Incidentally, the previous commentators are underestimating the demand for cheap phones, even in the U.S. There are plenty of poorer folks, cheapskates and large families who are on prepaid in the U.S. with a cheap phone. Upgrading to a smartphone at that price is a no brainer for occasional use of the net.