January 17, 2013, 4:56 AM — China's smartphone market is growing so fast that it is expected to be nearly twice as large as the U.S. market this year, according to research firm Canalys.
Smartphone shipments to the Chinese market will reach 239.8 million units in 2013, the research firm said in a report on Thursday. In contrast, shipments to the U.S. market will only amount to 125 million.
The gap between the two countries is striking, considering that it was only as recently as in the first quarter of 2012 that smartphone shipments to China began surpassing those of the U.S., said Canalys analyst Nicole Peng.
2012, however, was a landmark year for the devices as the country saw more consumers wanting to buy affordable smartphones. Local handset makers, already aware of the trend, began switching from selling feature phones to releasing low-priced Android devices.
As a result, China's smartphone shipments for 2012 are expected to have reached 186 million units, Peng said. This marks a major increase from the 83 million units shipped in 2011.
"In Q4 2011, the U.S. and Chinese markets were almost the same, but the U.S. was still bigger," she said. "Now in one year's time, China has a 100 million more smartphones than the year before."
The U.S., on the other hand, is expected to have grown to 108 million units in 2012, an increase of 8 million from the previous year.
Peng estimates China has about 100 domestic smartphone vendors, in addition to popular foreign companies such as Apple, Samsung and HTC. About 70 percent of all smartphone sales in the country come from local brands, she added.
In the future, Chinese domestic vendors will continue to dominate the smartphone market, by selling devices to the country's smaller cities, where mobile phone penetration lags at 50 to 60 percent, Peng said.
China currently has more than a billion mobile phone subscribers.