Smartphone shipments will decline this year before returning to modest growth, as developments in emerging markets mixed with potential around 5G and new form factors brings some positivity back to the sector, IDC predicted.

The research house stated a decline of 3 per cent to 1.42 billion units in 2018 will be replaced by “low single-digit” growth in the period to 2022, with smartphone shipments of 1.57 billion units forecast for that year.

Much of the current malaise can be attributed to China, which is expected to be down by 8.8 per cent in 2018. IDC expects a flat 2019, before a return to positive territory in the period to 2022. Another key market, the US, is expected to return to positive growth in 2019 (a forecast 2.1 per cent), after also declining this year.

“With many of the large global companies focusing on high-end product launches, hoping to draw in consumers looking to upgrade based on specifications and premium devices, we can expected head-to-head competition within this segment during the holiday quarter and into 2019 to be exceptionally high,” said Sangeetika Srivastava, senior research analyst with IDC Worldwide Mobile Device Trackers.

IDC noted that while 2018 had fallen below expectations, the worldwide smartphone market is set to pick up on the shift toward larger screens and ultra high-end devices. In the third quarter of 2018, the 6-inch to 7-inch screen size became the most prominent band for the first time, with more than four-times year-on-year growth.

Smartphones with screens of 5.5-inches and above will account for 66.7 per cent of all devices sold this year, increasing to 87.7 per cent by 2022.

Melissa Chau, associate research director with IDC’s Worldwide Mobile Device Trackers, said: “What we consider a so-called normal size smartphone has shifted dramatically in a few short years and while we are stretching the limits with bezel-less devices, the next big switch to flexible screens will test our imaginations even further.”

“While this category of device is still nascent and won’t see major adoption in the year ahead, it’s exciting to see changes to the standard monoblock we are all so used to carrying.”