APAC to ring up 2B unique smartphone users by 2019

Smartphone subscribers will outpace that of feature phones in 2016 and account for 80 percent of Asia-Pacific's overall mobile user base by 2019.

The Asia-Pacific region will be home to 2 billion unique smartphone users by 2019, accounting for 83 percent of the overall unique mobile subscriber base.

The number of unique smartphone users in the region crossed 1 billion last year, which also marked the first time this user segment was larger than those who used feature phones, according to a Forrester report released Tuesday.

The market researcher said the number of unique smartphone users would exceed 2 billion by 2019, clocking a compound annual growth rate of 14 percent.

The overall installed base for smartphones was expected to hit 3.1 billion, accounting for 80 percent of total mobile subscriptions in Asia-Pacific. Smartphone penetration rates in most markets would exceed 75 percent, Forrester noted.

It added that adoption was expected to climb across various age groups including Generation X and baby boomers. Some 51 percent of smartphone owners in the region would be aged 34 and below, with the remaining aged 35 and above.

Smartphone adoption also was expected to be fueled by the wide availability of low-cost devices being introduced in the market by global as well as regional manufacturers, including LG, Samsung, Gionee, Micromax, and Xiaomi.

"This hyper-competition is causing the average selling price of smartphones to decline, making the devices more affordable for the masses," Forrester said. For instance, 95 brands launched more than 1,100 smartphone models in the Indian market last year, with 64 of these from local device makers. Almost 60 percent of these smartphones were priced between US$75 and US$235, pushing the average selling price of smartphones in India by 19 percent over 2014.

China saw the same trend, with the prices of many smartphones dipping below US$160 last year, Forrester noted.

The market analyst also pointed to the increasing use of e-commerce and messaging services, such as WhatsApp and WeChat, that were driving smartphone adoption. Almost 80 percent of online users in metro India used WhatsApp to communicate, while 60 percent tapped their smartphones to purchase both physical and digital goods.

In China, 96 percent of smartphone users accessed WeChat, with those living in metro areas spending more than nine hours a week on the messaging app.

Across the region, by 2019, only Pakistan's smartphone penetration would clock 38 percent and feature phone users would account for 30 percent of the overall subscriber base. The country's adoption would be held back by low per-capita income, lack of 3G data adoption, and political instability, the latter of which will impact regulations and market dynamics, Forrester noted.

The rest of Asia-Pacific was expected to see smartphone penetration rates of 70 percent and above by 2019, it said, singling out "saturated markets--including Singapore, China, Hong Kong, and Australia--where more than 90 percent of mobile subscribers would have a smartphone. Smartphone penetration rate for these markets was expected to surpass 100 percent, with mobile subscribers owning more than one of such device.

"Once the infrastructure--smartphones combined with high-speed wireless internet--is in place, consumers will increasingly demand high-definition, localized digital content, services, and touchpoints to engage with brands," Forrester said.

Growth markets, including India, Indonesia, Japan, and Vietnam, was predicted to see see unique smartphone penetration of 70 percent to 90 percent. "Until most of the markets in this group reach critical mass for smartphone adoption over the next two to three years, brands operating there must build digital services for both feature phone and smartphone users. This means having a mobile website and potentially an app," the research firm said.

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