The Western European mobile phone market shrank in the first quarter of 2013, due to a lower-than-expected slowdown in smartphone shipments, according to International Data Corporation (IDC). 

Total shipments dropped 4,2% year-over-year to 43,6-million units, according to IDC’s European Mobile Phone Tracker, published in May 2013.

The feature phones segment continued to lose ground as consumers adopt smartphones. Shipments fell 31% year-over-year to 12-million units. The smartphone segment also lost some steam in the first quarter.
Shipments increased 12% year-over-year to 31,6-million units in the quarter, which was the lowest growth rate since IDC started tracking the mobile phone market in 2004.

Most Western European countries experienced a slowdown in smartphone sales as economies deteriorated, with a consequent decline in disposable income for consumers. Mobile operators are also cutting handset subsidies to reduce their costs as revenues decline. This is particularly impacting the Southern European economies, where consumers refrain from replacing their mobile phones for longer periods.

In Northern Europe, smartphone penetration is reaching a tipping point, which has started to impact the smartphone growth, as most users already have a smartphone and will not replace it until the contract ends or the device breaks.

In Western Europe, phone makers are facing the most challenging time ever; the economic environment is impacting demand, while users are buying cheaper handsets, which impacts manufacturers’ margins.

“We are now entering the second wave of smartphone adoption in the region. The first wave was driven by those users looking for devices that would meet their mobility needs. They did look for the best devices in terms of performance and user experience, and more importantly, they were able to afford and pay a premium to get a premium experience.

“We are now entering the second wave of smartphone adoption, which will be driven by those users with no need for a smartphone,” says Francisco Jeronimo, European mobile devices research director at IDC.

“These new users are looking to replace their current feature phones with another feature phone, as smartphones are fancy gadgets that they don’t feel the need to have. However, when they go to a phone shop most of the options available are smartphones only; their friends, colleagues and family may have smartphones and are always talking about the latest apps, and the cheapest smartphones they note are most likely to be as low in price as the last feature phone they bought.
“With a small push from sales people, the sale is almost guaranteed. But they will buy one of the cheapest smartphones as they still see no value for money.”

In terms of operating system, Android continues to dominate the smartphone landscape.

In the quarter, Google’s OS shipped 21,9-million units and market share increased to 69% in 1Q13 from 55% in last years’ first quarter.

Apple’s iOS continues to lose ground as market share declined to 20% from 25% in 1Q12.

Windows Phone improved its position to become the third biggest OS in the region, but it still represents a tiny percentage of the smartphones shipped. Its market share rose to 6% in 1Q13 from 4% in 1Q12.