Smartphone sales to drop 3.2% for all of 2019, Gartner says

woman holding smartphone
Smartphones last so long that consumers aren't replacing them every two years as in the past. (Getty Images)

Smartphone sales will decline by 3.2% for all of 2019, their worst decline ever, according to analyst firm Gartner.

However, there's hope: The gradual emergence of 5G networks and 5G smartphones will help the smartphone market return to growth in 2020 by 2.9%, Gartner said Thursday. Even so, total smartphone sales won’t surpass 2018 levels until 2021.

5G phones will account for more than half of all phones sales in 2023, Gartner predicted. More than a dozen service providers have launched commercial 5G services in a handful of markets, noted Ranjit Atwal, senior research director for Gartner. 

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Gartner said 56% of phones sold in 2023 will run on 5G chips, up from 10% in 2020. Less than half of service providers globally will have launched a commercial 5G network in the next five years, Atwal said.

A number of analysts have said the smartphone decline is due to the longevity of the latest phone models. “Consumers hold onto their phones longer, given the limited attraction of the new technology,” said Atwal. There are about 5 billion mobile phones in use around the world, including smartphones and other mobile phones, some of them several years old.

Premium smartphones in recent years, like Apple’s iPhone and many models of Android phones from Samsung and others, have a longer lifetime than in the past, beyond a traditional two-year time frame, because of their quality and tech features. “Unless the devices provide significant new utility, efficiency or experiences, users do not necessarily want to upgrade their phones,” Atwal added.

All types of devices, including smartphones and other mobile phones, PCs, and tablets will see a decline of 3.7% in 2019, with shipments dropping to 2.140 billion devices from 2.223 billion in 2018. By 2021, the number of devices will recover some to 2.157 billion devices.

Mobile phones, including smartphones, will go from 1.813 billion shipped in 2018 to 1.743 billion in 2019 and then 1.775 billion in 2021, Gartner said. Smartphones, which make up about 85% of all mobile phones, alone shipped 1.556 billion units in 2018 and should drop to 1.506 billion in 2019, then begin climbing back up in 2020 when they should reach 1.550 billion. By 2021, smartphone shipments will surpass their 2018 level, reaching 1.5588 billion smartphones in 2021, Gartner estimates.

PC shipments will drop in 2019 by 1.5% roughly in line with estimates from some other analysts. The consumer PC market will be hit worse, at 9.8% down. As with smartphones, PC lifetimes are increasing. Total PC shipments in 2019 will reach 256 million units.

RELATED: Laptops, desktops and tablets to plunge by 9% by 2023

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