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Low-cost handsets drive 2013 smartphone shipments to one billion

Samsung Galaxy S4
Samsung Galaxy S4
Wikimedia Commons

Global mobile handset shipments either neared or surpassed the magic "one billion" shipment mark in 2013, depending on which Monday market research firm report you read (via TechCrunch). IDC’s Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker said the threshold was broken, while Strategy Analytics (SA) said shipments fell just short, at 990 million.

What is driving growth, however, is something that shouldn't be a secret: It is inexpensive -- very cheap -- Android devices, with some of them selling for than $150 (unsubsidized) in emerging markets such as India and China. These cheap handsets are even hitting developed nations, too, with the Moto G selling for $99.99 on Verizon's network -- although it is a 3G-only device.

Ryan Reith, program director of IDC’s Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker, said that the top two trends driving smartphone growth are large-screened devices and lower-cost devices, with the latter being “the key difference maker.” Neither of those attributes -- large screen or low cost -- is part of Apple's iPhone series.

Cheap devices are not the attractive segment that normally grabs headlines, but IDC data shows this is the portion of the market that is driving volume. Markets like China and India are quickly moving toward a point where sub-$150 smartphones are the majority of shipments, bringing a solid computing experience to the hands of many.

It is rumored that Apple's 2014 iPhones will sport larger screens, large than 4.5- and 5-inches, with two models in the mix. Those are, of course, just rumors.

There isn't a rumor flying around this year that says that Apple will release a sub-$150 (unsubsidized) iPhone, though.

SA's executive director Neil Mawston said

Apple remains strong in the high-end smartphone segment, but a lack of presence in the low-end category is costing it lost volumes in fast-growing emerging markets such as India.