Mobile Milestone: The Number Of Smartphones In Use Passed 1 Billion In Q3, Says Strategy Analytics

We are just getting into reporting season, where some (but not all) handset makers tell us how many handsets they’ve sold in the last three months, but Strategy Analytics has taken a punt to say that Q3 will be the quarter that we have hit a major milestone: there are now more than 1 billion smartphones in use worldwide — 1.038 billion, to be exact. It’s taken 16 years to pass 1 billion, but the analysts believe it will only take three years for the next billion smartphone users to come on board.

When it comes to the big things in technology, billion, it seems, is the new million.

The analysts do not go into the specifics of which handset maker accounts for the bulk of these. At the moment, Samsung is the leader in terms of how many handsets are getting sold quarterly, with Apple and then Nokia following behind. And by some estimates, the number of phones shipped into the retail channel have already approached 1 billion. However, when it comes to smartphones in circulation, the names may not stack up the same way. (We’re reaching out to ask and will update with whatever we learn.)

Strategy Analytics says that it took 16 years to reach the 1 billion mark, and with the cost of devices coming down quickly, and the number of smartphone makers continuing to grow, we may reach the next billion in less time.

It’s a mark of how much the business has evolved since the world’s first smartphone hit the market: the Nokia Communicator in 1996 (pictured here), came out at a time when Nokia was practically the only mobile game in town. These days, Nokia is finding it hard to keep up with Samsung and Apple and is just getting farther behind each quarter (we’ll know by tomorrow when Nokia reports its Q3 earnings, what the latest on Nokia’s numbers will be). They say that it will only take three years to reach the next billion.

Meanwhile, smartphone growth is accelerating. It took 15 years, from 1996 to Q3 2011, to reach 708 million smartphone devices, but then it took only one year for another 300 million to come online, says Scott Bicheno, Senior Analyst at Strategy Analytics.

Neil Mawston, Executive Director at Strategy Analytics, estimates that 1.038 billion smartphones works out to 1 person in every 7 owning a smartphone, meaning that there are still more feature phone users out there, and that there is still much more growth to come, at an even faster pace: “Smartphone penetration is still relatively low,” he writes. “Most of the world does not yet own a smartphone and there remains huge scope for future growth, particularly in emerging markets such as China, India and Africa. The first billion smartphones in use worldwide took 16 years to reach, but we forecast the next billion to be achieved in less than three years, by 2015.”