Don't Expect Blockbuster Smartphone Sales in 2016

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After peaking in 2010, the days of double-digit smartphone sales growth are over, according to Gartner.

The firm expects worldwide smartphone sales to grow just 7 percent this year, reaching 1.5 billion units. That's down from 14.4 percent growth in 2015. Meanwhile, smartphone sales are "on pace" to total 1.9 billion units in 2020, Gartner said.

"The smartphone market will no longer grow at the levels it has reached over the last seven years," Gartner Research Director Roberta Cozza said in a statement. "Smartphone sales recorded their highest growth in 2010, reaching 73 percent."

At this point, the smartphone market has reached "90 percent penetration" in mature markets like North America, Western Europe, Japan, and areas of the Asia/Pacific region, a factor "slowing future growth," Gartner said. Plus, users in these regions aren't champing at the bit to upgrade their smartphones as often as in previous years.

"In the mature markets, premium phone users are extending life cycles to 2.5 years, which is not going to change drastically over the next five years," Cozza added.

With mature markets now saturated, vendors are turning their attention to India and China. In India, feature phones are still going strong: last year they accounted for 61 percent of total mobile phone sales (or 167 million units). This year, Garner expects smartphone sales in India to grow 29.5 percent, reaching 139 million units.

"India has the highest growth potential," Gartner Research Director Annette Zimmermann said in a statement.

Meanwhile in China, smartphone sales were flat last year after growing 16 percent in 2014.

"In this saturated yet highly competitive smartphone market, there is little growth expected in China in the next five years," Zimmermann said. Still, there's still room for a newcomer: Gartner said that by 2018, at least "one nontraditional phone maker will be among the top five smartphone brands in China."

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