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More than half the mobile phones in SEA are smartphones: Research

Smartphone sales volume in the region grew 43 per cent year-on-year in Q1, with Indonesia, Vietnam and Thailand the main growth markets, according to the research firm.

SINGAPORE: Smartphone sales continue to grow in South-East Asia, with 18 million units sold in the first three months of 2014, according to market research company GfK, which attributed the rise to people in emerging markets switching over from feature phones.

The volume of smartphone sales grew 43 per cent in the first quarter over the same period last year, GfK said in a statement on Thursday (June 5). This represented a sales value of nearly US$4.2 billion (S$5.3 billion), or 25 per cent more than the corresponding period in 2013.

Smartphone adoption has also crossed the halfway mark in the overall handset market, constituting 55 per cent in the seven markets - Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Philippines, Cambodia, and Vietnam - included in the report.

Mr Gerard Tan, Account Director for Digital World at GfK Asia, said in the report that it expects smartphone penetration to deepen in the region. "More than half the market today is contributed by smartphones and the trend will be sustained as the switchover in emerging markets takes precedence."

Delving into individual markets, the report identified Indonesia, Vietnam and Thailand as the top three growth markets in terms of sales volume. These markets reported increases of 68, 59 and 45 per cent, respectively, for the first quarter.

Mr Tan attributed the strong showing in Vietnam and Thailand to the introduction of 3G services last year. He added: "At the same time, a mix of Chinese and local brands have penetrated into the smartphone market of emerging markets with very attractively priced models to appeal to the low-end segment, managing to convert those consumers who cannot afford the premium phones."

The report noted that smartphones priced lower than US$100 turned in the strongest growth to contribute most in dollar terms, accounting for more than 30 per cent of the overall sales value in the first quarter.

Singapore, however, saw dwindling smartphone sales and value in the first quarter over the same period last year. GfK told Channel NewsAsia that 642,100 units were sold in the three months, which is a drop from the 652,500 units sold last year.

In terms of value, the smartphones sold in the quarter were worth US$211.9 million which is lower than US$219.8 million in the first quarter of 2013, the research firm said. A company spokesperson added Singapore's smartphone market is the smallest one after Cambodia, so its contribution to the overall South-East Asia smartphone market is "low".

DEMAND FOR 'PHABLETS' ON THE RISE

More than 1.1 million smartphones with screen sizes of over 5.6 inches - also known as phablets - worth a total of US$567 million were sold in the same quarter, GfK said, with Malaysia and Indonesia the biggest markets for this device sector.

Mr Tan said phablet sales could grow even bigger in the coming quarters. “Several popular international brands have officially announced the launch of a number of flagship models in the next two quarters of this year, and this could likely be holding consumers back from their purchases in anticipation of the new models,” he said.

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