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UAE tops, Korea 4th in smartphone penetration

July 09,2015
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Although Korea’s ranking of smartphone penetration has fallen over the past two years, it still remains one of the leading countries in the number of users of the devices.

According to a study by KT’s research center Digieco, 83 percent of Koreans were using smartphones in March, fourth among the world’s nations in the ubiquity of the devices.

The leading country this year is the United Arab Emirates at 90.8 percent of the population, followed by Singapore and Saudi Arabia, both at 87.7 percent.

Two years ago, Korea was second in the rankings at 79.5 percent, just below No. 1, with Singapore at 85.3 percent and the UAE at 77.7 percent.

Japan ranked at the lower bottom of the list at it took up the 43rd spot with 53.9 percent.

The KT report commented that one of the biggest changes in the global market this year has been the rapid rise in new markets, such as Thailand, in the use of smartphones.

In that country, the smartphone penetration rate rose 23.7 percentage points in one year. Two out of three Thais (63.7 percent) now carry a smartphone. Other emerging markets such as Brazil, Malaysia, Vietnam, Poland, Argentina, Turkey, Russia and Indonesia saw an increase in penetration of more than 15 percentage points over the past year.

The report predicted that Indians could soon overtake the Chinese as the largest national group with smartphones in their hands.

The penetration of the communication devices in India is now 33.1 percent, an increase of 11 percentage points year-on-year. India ranks third, after China and the United States, in the total number of smartphones in use, accounting for 7.6 percent of the smartphones in use around the world. China holds the top position with 29.7 percent of the devices in use, followed by the United States with 11.8 percent. But by 2019, Digieco says, India’s smartphone usage will probably exceed that in the United States. By that year, Americans could account for only 9.5 percent of users and Indian users will account for nearly double its 2015 share, rising to 13.3 percent. China will continue to reign as the largest smartphone market, Digieco said, but its share of total devices in use is expected to drop to 23.9 percent.

In fact, shipments of smartphones in China fell 4.3 percent to 98.9 million units in the first quarter of this year compared to the same period of 2014. The KT research center said the quarter was the first since 2009 to register a decline in shipments.

By manufacturer, Samsung Electronics still dominates with a 24.5-percent market penetration rate, followed by Apple with 18.2 percent. LG was also in the upper ranks of manufacturers with a 4.6-percent global market penetration rate.

But compared to the first quarter of last year, Samsung’s position has weakened and Apple’s has risen. Samsung had a 30.2-percent penetration rate in early 2014 with Apple’s at 15.5 percent. The change might also say something about the acceptance of the rivals’ newest phones; the Samsung Galaxy S6 and the iPhone 6 were both new in the market in the first quarter of this year.

Apple has moved away from the insistence by its founder, Steve Jobs, on small-screen phones; its new models come with 5.5-inch screens, a change that has reversed its declining fortunes, especially in the China market.

U.S. smartphone makers earn 29 percent of their revenue in the Chinese market. While shipments from Samsung shrank 7 percent in the first quarter, Apple’s expanded by 40 percent.

Digieco also predicted that although the tablet PC market will continue to shrink, the wearable device market and virtual reality connectivity with smartphones will probably jump significantly. It predicted that augmented- and virtual-reality device sales will grow by 2018 to become a $4 billion market. Another noticeable trend Digieco sees is a spurt in robotics technology and new uses for it.


BY LEE HO-JEONG [lee.hojeong@joongang.co.kr]