Despite emerging markets driving global smartphone sales upward, with China still leading the way, research firm Gartner said on Monday that the phone market growth rate is expected to expand by only 3.3 percent in 2015, due to the lacklustre performance in the world's largest populated market.
"The global market has been affected by a weaker performance in China. We have witnessed fewer and fewer first-time buyers in China, a sign that the mobile phone market in there is reaching saturation," said Annette Zimmermann, a research director with Gartner.
"Vendors in China will have to win replacement buyers and improve the appeal of their premium offerings to attract upgrades if they want to maintain or increase their market share," Zimmermann noted in the report.
Gartner's research concurs with an IDC note released in late May, which expects the smartphone shipments growth to slow down to 11.3 percent in 2015 -- compared with a 27.6 percent expansion last year -- as market penetration increases in key markets.
IDC further projected China's smartphone growth to be only 2.5 percent in 2015, the first year its growth has been slower than the worldwide market.
Chinese rising star Xiaomi said last week that it sold 34.7 million smartphones in the first half of 2015. The half-year result made it tough for the Chinese smartphone maker to reach its original goal of selling 100 million handsets this year, and it subsequently lowered the year-end target to 80 million.
"Vendors looking to grow their performance in the global smartphone market will be challenged to quickly enhance their expansion into emerging markets outside of China, where we still witness a sizeable share of feature phones and an opportunity for double-digit smartphone growth," said Gartner's Zimmermann.