Feature Article

October 21, 2013

Mobile Device Prices are Under Pressure Globally

It is not news that sales of PCs are dropping, while mobile phones and tablet sales are growing, globally. It probably would not come as a surprise that sales growth is driven by lower prices.

And that might be a particular issue for device suppliers, especially Apple, which maintains its “premium device, premium pricing” positioning.

To be sure, Apple can make a reasonable argument that its global positioning will work, as the ranks of consumers able and willing to afford a premium device continues to grow. That means Apple assuredly will lose overall device market share over time, but maintain its profit margins.

You can make your own decision about whether that is a winning strategy for most suppliers, but it can, in principle, work for Apple, so long as Apple does not expect to be the volume or market share leader, in devices.

Image via Shutterstock

Some would argue the longer term ecosystem implications are a bit more troublesome, as user scale has direct implications for application ecosystem scale and influence.

Others might argue Apple is more exposed in the tablet market than the smart phone market, in part because the “personal” nature of the smart phone is only partially replicated as strongly in the tablet market.

In other words, people have the highest degree of emotional involvement with their phones, less with their tablets and still less with their PCs. That might suggest that premium pricing works best for the most personal items, as is the case for other products with high end user emotional involvement or brand preference.

Recent Apple iPad sales have plummeted, in terms of growth rate, for example. To be sure, at a high level, global shipments of devices (PCs, tablets and mobile phones) are projected to reach 2.32 billion units in 2013, a 4.5 percent increase from 2012, according to Gartner. But the market is being driven by a shift to lower-priced devices in nearly all device categories.

Global shipments of traditional PCs (desk-based and notebook) are forecast to total 303 million units in 2013, an 11.2 percent decline from 2012, and the PC market, including ultra-mobile devices, is forecast to decline 8.4 percent in 2013.

Mobile phone shipments are projected to grow 3.7 percent, with volume of more than 1.8 billion units.

Tablet shipments are expected to grow 53.4 percent in 2013, with shipments reaching 184 million units.

But premium-priced tablets are faced with price pressure as more buyers shift to the seven-inch form factor, rather than buying the 10-inch models.

A recent consumer study that Gartner conducted in Brazil, China, France, Germany, Italy, the U.K., the U.S. and Japan confirmed Gartner's long-standing assumption that smaller is better when it comes to consumer tablets.

The survey showed that the average screen sizes of the tablets in use across the countries ranged from 8.3 inches to 9.5 inches. Forty-seven percent of the 21,500 consumers surveyed owned a tablet that was eight inches or less, Gartner analysts say.

“The mobile phone market will continue to experience steady growth, but the opportunity for high average selling price smart phones is now ending,” says Gartner.

Growth is expected to come from mid-tier smart phones in mature markets and low-end Android smartphones in emerging markets.

Edited by Alisen Downey

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