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Feature phones reign as smartphone market gets tougher



The Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) mobile phone market saw smartphone volumes fall for a second year in 2017, while there was a relative boom in shipments of lowly feature phones, a reversal of the previous trend.

Smartphone volumes were down modestly at 361 million, against 374 million in 2016. Feature phone shipments rose by 8.7% to 206 million.

Smartphone market value was marginally lower in dollar terms at $109 billion, though the drop was more pronounced in euros, at €96 billion, against €101 billion in 2016.

“Looking at the European market of the European Union, Norway, and Switzerland, consumers are spending more money on phones even as they buy them less frequently. This is true of countries in both Western and Central Europe,” said Program Director of mobile phone research in IDC CEMA, Simon Baker.

In a year when the European economy showed shoots of recovery, and the euro rose against the dollar, the drop underlined the pressures as the smartphone business matures.

Apple managed to stand out in a difficult market, commented Susana Santos, senior research analyst at IDC Western Europe. The premium iPhone X was only launched in November but added some $4.3 billion to Apple sales in the European market across the year, over a sixth of the annual Apple total.

Sales in the more affluent Western European countries were overall flat, though Germany stood out, but overall in EMEA the shipment value of Apple iPhones rose to 37.5% of total smartphone value, on sales of 57 million iPhones across the year, up from 34.2% of the market value and 54.8 million iPhones in 2016.

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The competition to Samsung from Huawei helped to revitalize the top end of the Android market, and in Europe sales of Android phones above $700 (€619 in 2017) were up by a fifth from 2016.

But there was a trend to keep older premium models in production at lower prices to keep volumes buoyant as consumers looked for better value in their phone purchases.

Samsung continued to dominate Android sales in EMEA and in 2017 held on to a two-fifth share, while Huawei’s challenge slowed, with the Android share only slightly above that of the previous year at 13.4%.

The relaunch of the Nokia brand by HMD saw it re-establish itself in many of the countries of old Nokia strength; over half of its global smartphone sales were within EMEA.

Other key trends in the EMEA market in 2017:

-While the decline in the smartphone market has already been evident in the more developed markets of Western and Central Europe, many of the emerging markets of EMEA are now seeing the same contraction, even though many are far from saturated by smartphones.

-Despite the regional market being dominated in demographic terms by Africa’s 1.2 billion population, in 2017 there was no increase in the entry-level segment of the smartphone market.

This has been to the detriment of several smartphone players, among them Alcatel and Lenovo, which had targeted the entry-level and saw their positions suffer during the year.

-Feature phones are no longer in rapid decline. Not only are they showing a strong resurgence in Africa, their sales volumes are falling more slowly than before across Europe.

-While the Middle East market is still subdued in the aftermath of the oil price drop, the market in Russia has risen back up to near the same dollar value as before the 2014 ruble slump despite the lower exchange value of the local currency.

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