根 据IDC的最新统计数据，智能手机市场成长速度已经明显趋缓；该机构预期，全球智能手机出货量成长率将在今年大幅减少，并在2018年之前都保持缓慢 增速，而且产品平均价格也将明显下滑。IDC估计，在2013年取得39.2%成长率、销售量超过10亿支的全球智能手机市场，2014年的成长率将减 少至19.3%，到2018年更进一步仅剩6.2%。
仔细观察各个价格区间的智能手机销售量，可明显看到低价产品市场成长率有越来越高的趋势。IDC市场分析师Francisco Jeronimo日前曾表示，去年100美元以下智能手机销售量成长近三倍，达到1.59亿支；该销售量数字在2012年为4,540万支；而50美元 以下手机的销售成长速度更快，由2012年的90万支，增加到2013年的1,950万支。
许多市场观察家都预见智能手机 市场将出现大幅变动；IDC研究计划总监Ryan Reith就表示，2014年将是“智能手机市场大转折”的一年；他表示：“不仅市场成长速度将出现前所未有的减缓，推升智能手机渗透率的背后动力也 在改变；新的市场成长动力带来不同的游戏规则
大多数对25美元 Firefox OS 智能手机的报导虽不负面、也都不冷不热，多数读者的反应也差不多；西方市场观察家似乎对新兴市场的 实际情况非常生疏，在那些区域，人们可能没有PC、不能上网、甚至没有电话线，但他们能接取2G/2.5G移动网络(有一些区域有3G)。而有部分媒体则认为25美元廉价智能手机的未来发展有限、就像其价格，或是认为Firefox OS最终仍将往高阶市场发展才能取得更大的成功。
Firefox 计划与中国芯片业者展讯合作进军智能手机初次使用者市场，笔者认为，此举不仅将永远改变“功能手机市场”的定义，也将改变人们对智能手机的预期。以 25美元的产品零售价，Firefox与展讯的目标是功能手机市场中一块有相当规模的领域，那也是Android手机迄今无法着墨的一个领域。
更 值得一提的是，Firefox开发商Mozilla已经建立起一个正在发展的产业生态系统；在MWC期间，该公司发表了7款采用 Firefox OS 的手机，供货商包括Alcatel Onetouch、华为(Huawei)、LG以及中兴(ZTE)。支持 Firefox OS 的电信营运商也越来越多，Mozilla的Firefox OS装置联盟有21家世界各国电信营运商成员；如果该联盟持续发展，就表示其策略取得成功，也可望让该平台在市场获得重视。
一 旦25美元廉价智能手机不断普及，将会对新兴市场带来重大的影响；而就如同一位产业界朋友所言，有了25美元智能手机，可能没有人会想要100美元 PC了。几年前发起的“一童一笔电(One Laptop Per Child)”行动，期望藉由廉价PC拉拢开发中国家与先进国家的数字鸿沟；藉由25美元廉价智能手机，该目标更有可能实现。
而 如果说25美元Firefox OS廉价智能手机还有什么问题，可能就是使用者的焦虑。无论是来自什么地方，应该没有消费者会乐意接受仅有平凡无奇用户体验的产品；市场上有太多智能手机拥有类似的外观与功能，因此产品差异化的终极因素仍是来自于使用者体验，包括手机在提供上网、信息娱乐、短信发送、多媒体影音播放等应用程序时，产品的电池续航力、性能、显示器画质等表现。
Validity of New Feature Phone Market
What once looked like a sky's-the-limit market for smartphones has been grounded.
If this week's Mobile World Congress gave us any clue, low-cost mobile handsets are back in the spotlight. The battle over smartphones loade
d with bells and whistles is fading
. A new skirmish is emerging in the segment that used to be called
feature phones. If anyone assumed that the industry's pundits and market research comp
anies abandoned hope for feature phones a few years ago, well, not so fast.
"The real significance" of the market for phones priced below $50 "is the validity
of the addressable sub-today's-smartphone market," John Jackson, program vice president for mobility research at IDC, told us. "The precise size is debatable, but it'll be in the tens of mil
lions, if not hundreds of millions."
The Worldwide Quart
erly Mobile Phone Tracker that IDC released Wednesday released confirms the significant slowdown in smartphone momentum. The research firm said growth in global smartphone shipm
ents will fall sharply this year and keep slowing through 2018, with the average prices dropping significantly.
Worldwide smartphone average selling price by region and five-year CAGR (in US dollars). The asterisks indicate
In fact, after 39.2% growth in 2013, when a billion smartphones were sold, the smartphone market will grow only 19.3% this year and 6.2% in 2018, IDC said.
t this backdrop, unans
wered questions foc
us on whether chip vendors and handset OEMs -- which seem singularly intent on adding more MIPS to their hardware -- are prepared for the shifting landscape. More importantly, do they even want to play in the market for next-generation, low-cost smartphones aimed a
A closer look at smartphone sales by price range reveals a clear trend for higher market growth among cheaper phones. IDC analyst Francisco Jeronimo told Reuters this week that "smartphone sales in the sub-$100 category alon
e more than tripled
to hit 159 million last year from 45.4 million in 2012." The growth was even faster for phones costing less than $50 -- "up from just 900,000 in 2012 to 19.5 million last year."
Many industry observers foresee a big shift in the smartphone market. Ryan Reith, program director with IDC, called 2014 "an enormous transition year for the smartphone market" in a press release on the quarterly report. "Not only will growth decl
ine more than ever before, but the driving forces behind smartphone adoption are changing. New markets for growth bring different rules to play by and 'premi
um' will not be a major factor in the regions driving overall market growth."
When it comes to new rules, nobod
y dropped a bigger bombshell at the Mobile World Congress than Firefox and Spreadtrum. They announced an ambitious plan for $25 smartphones.
The Nokia X, unveiled in Barcelona, was mildly interesting because Nokia is adding yet another platform to its mobile phone lineup and confusing the market. But the Nokia X (priced at $122) will likely fall far short of making progress toward the Finnish company's stated goal of going after the "next billion" users.
Most of the initial news coverage of the $25 smartphones with Firefox OS unveiled at the Mobile World Congress was lukewarm
, if not negative. So were many readers' first
reactions. Western observers generally seemed out of touch with the reality of emerging markets -- where people still have no PCs, no Internet connectivity, and no landlines, but they have acces
s to 2G and 2.5G services (up to 3G in some cases).
Many reporters missed the mark by calling the $25 smartphone "as limited as its price suggests," or by insisting that "Firefox OS ultimately will have to go up-market if it's to succ
Firefox's plan to go after first-time smartphone users in collaboration with Spreadtrum, China's leadi
ng chip vendor, will change forever not only the definition of the feature phone market, but also what to be expe
cted of smartphones.
Dare take Android?
At a retail
price point of $25, the Firefox/Spreadtrum team is focused on capturing a sizable piece of the feature phone market -- one segment that Android phones haven't been able to address thus far.
Firefox and Spreadtrum are "deliber
ately aiming lower than where most vendors can or will dare take Android at this point," Jackson said. "They have an evolved platform that will let them address price points well below $50."
Worldwide smartphone forecast (in millions) by OS, shipments, and marketshare. The asterisks indicate forecast data.
Even more noteworthy is the growing ecosystem that Mozilla has been able to build. At the Mobile World Congress, the company unveiled seven handsets running Firefox OS from device partners such as Alcatel Onetouch, Huawei, LG, and ZTE.
Operator support for Firefox OS is also expanding. Mozilla said this week that Telkomsel and Indosat have joined the list of 21 operators that support the open web device initiative. Those supporters include
China Unicom, Deutsche Telekom, Hutchison Three Group, KDDI, Sprint, Telefonica, Telenor, and Telec
om Italia Group.
Mozilla and its partners "have done well to somewhat quietly get the platform to where it is," Jackson said. "If the incremental growth and partner list continues this next year, it'll be a clear tactical victory that should have the full attention of the competition
A proliferation of $25 smartphones would also likely make a big soc
ial impact on emerging economie
s. In light of the $25 smartphone, one EE Times community member said, "Seriously, no one wants a $100 PC now." The One Laptop Per Child movement several years ago sought to help close the gap between the developing world's haves and have-nots. With $25 smartphones (rather than $100 laptops), that might finally happen
If anything, a problem that might trip up $25 smartphones with Firefox OS is user angst. No consumers, no matter where they live, want to be told to be happy with a mediocre user experienc
e. So many smartphones worldwide look alike and offer similar features. What ultimately distinguishes one smartphone from another is the user experience -- battery life, performance, and disp
lay quality when used in specific applications such as browsing, infotainment, messaging, and multimedia.
Of course, there will be always a place for Samsung and Apple. Brand matters. But as the smartphone market matures, handset vendors and mobile chip suppliers will be under growing pressure to justify their hardware (and price) to match the user experiences they can deliver to consumers who look for the best phones for how they use them.
As the battle over lower-cost smartphones unfolds, one certainty is that vendors can no longer compete based simply by the number of CPU cores inside a handset.