Smartphone growth at lowest on concerns about global economy, saturation in China

Smartphone growth in the fourth quarter was the lowest ever, said research firm Strategy Analytics

Smartphone shipment growth was at its lowest ever in the fourth quarter of 2015 on account of the maturity of major markets like China and consumer concerns about the global economy, according to a research firm.

Samsung Electronics held on to its top position, posting its fastest growth in close to two years, and is expected to consolidate its leading position in the smartphone market with its rumored new Galaxy S7 flagship phone, said Strategy Analytics late Wednesday.

Apple's iPhone growth, in contrast is peaking, and the company will have to expand into new markets like India or Nigeria "to reignite iPhone growth" in 2016, the research firm said.

Global smartphone shipments grew just 6 percent year-on-year to 404.5 million phones in the fourth quarter of 2015 from over 380 million units in the same quarter in 2014. For the full year, smartphone shipments grew 12 percent from 1.28 billion in 2014 to a record 1.44 billion in 2015.

The outlook is also challenging for the smartphone industry. Earlier on Wednesday, Samsung warned that in 2016 it expects single-digit growth in both smartphones and tablets in view of softening demand and intensifying competition. The South Korean electronics giant said it will focus on boosting smartphone shipments "through releases of competitive devices and an optimized product portfolio."

Samsung did not disclose the number of smartphones it sold in the fourth quarter of 2015. The company has boosted sales of its smartphones in many price-sensitive markets like India by offering low-cost devices at prices that Apple's products often can't match.

Apple CEO Tim Cook also warned earlier this week of a difficult start to 2016, including a year-over-year decline in iPhone unit shipments in the first quarter.

In the fourth quarter, Samsung shipped 81.3 million smartphones for an over 20 percent share of the market, while Apple shipped 74.8 million phones for a share of 18.5 percent, according to Strategy Analytics. The two companies had tied for the first place in the fourth quarter of 2014 with a 19.6 percent share.

Number three vendor, Huawei, shipped 32.6 million phones for a share of 8.1 percent. The Lenovo-Motorola combine came in fourth followed by another Chinese rival Xiaomi.

IDC also reported smartphone shipment data on Wednesday. It said that a total of 399.5 million phones were shipped during the fourth quarter of 2015, up 5.7 percent from 377.8 million units shipped in the last quarter of 2014.

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