Phone shipments expected to rebound in 2020

After a couple of few rocky years, 2020 will mark a rebound for phone shipments, according to new projections from Gartner. But device makers aren’t out of the woods just yet. 2021’s numbers find things dipping yet again.

The analyst firm sees the category experiencing a 0.5 percent decline for 2019. That comports with recent numbers, which have the space experiencing negative growth over the past couple of years for the first time since firms started keeping tracking of these things.

Next year’s expected growth marks a potential bright spot, owing to upgrade cycles, but device makers should be bracing for slowed growth overall for the next couple of years. In 2021, things are said to drop even further.

Premium costs, slowed economic growth in places like China and less incentive to upgrade are driving the stagnation here. Gartner believes the average lifetime of a premium handset will increase from 2.6 to 2.8 years by 2023. It seems like a rounding error, but it’s enough to make an impact.

I’d anticipate that the coming push to 5G will help drive some growth along the way. Gartner, on the other hand, seems understandably more cautious about foldables, despite the form factor being all the rage at MWC last month.

“We expect that users will use a foldable phone as they do their regular smartphone, picking it up hundreds of times a day, unfolding it sporadically and typing on its plastic screen, which may scratch quickly depending on the way it folds,” Gartner research director Roberta Cozza says in a release tied to the study. “Through the next five years, we expect foldable phones to remain a niche product due to several manufacturing challenges. In addition to the surface of the screen, the price is a barrier despite we expect to decline with time. Currently priced at $2,000, foldable phones present too many trade-offs, even for many early technology adopters.”

Fair enough. Things do look better for the category long term, with foldable numbers up to 30 million units (around five percent of the market) by 2023.