Although it currently leads the world in smartphone shipments, the U.S. had best be prepared to step down. China will take over the top spot this year and has no plans of looking back. Research firm IDC notes the new leader and confirms a trend we’ve previously reported: the highly populous countries of India and Brazil are also moving up the charts, bringing a “second coming of the smartphone” to the world.
Aside from the high populations in all three nations, China, Brazil and India are now undergoing the mobile broadband transformation that countries such as the U.S. and UK accomplished over the past few years. As a result, there’s a more modern wireless infrastructure available to support the smartphone for the estimated 2.7 billion people (39.1 percent of the world’s total population) in these three countries.
Hardware makers have already taken notice of the huge opportunity here: In January, Apple CEO Tim Cook said this about Apple (s aapl) retail stores:
On the second country on the list of those four [China, Brazil, Russia, India], for us, would be Brazil. I think there’s a huge opportunity for us there, and we’ve more than begun to go deeper into Brazil. But I don’t want to signal that, that means that Apple retail will be there, because I don’t envision that occurring in the near term.
Note that China is already Apple’s second-most lucrative market. Samsung, Lenovo, LG and others surely can read the signs on the wall; in fact, Lenovo is essentially focused on its home country of China after selling and later buying back a mobile unit. You can bet that, with its global distribution, Nokia (s nok) too will hit these countries hard with Windows Phone(s msft) devices.
IDC figures it will take until 2016 before India and Brazil move up into the top 5 smartphone markets. That’s a huge jump past some already developed nations as two countries hold the no. 9 and 11 spot, respectively, this year. Aside from the improved infrastructure, it certainly won’t hurt that the cost of a capable smartphone is no longer $300 with a contract, but as low as $99 or less without one.