Global smartphone sales declined 2% last year, but Southeast Asia bucked the trend after recording sales volume growth of 1% to US$23bn, a new report has shown.

According to research firm GfK, that means 1.2 million more smartphones were purchased in 2019, bringing the total to 97 million devices bought across the six key markets of Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

Indonesia and Vietnam registered modest declines, but the remaining markets all witnessed strong growth, particularly in Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand.

Growth for both sales value and volume stood at 13% and 11% respectively in Malaysia and Singapore, while Thailand recorded significantly higher value over volume growth (13% versus 6%), and growth in the Philippines stood at 5% in value and 3% in volume.

“Over the years, the region’s consumers have always been showing keen interest when it comes to mobile handsets, with many owning more than one set or changing their smartphone frequently,” said Alexander Dehmel, associate director at GfK.

He added that the higher value over volume growth recorded in the Southeast Asian smartphone market is a sign that that consumers are upgrading their devices, confirming a trend that has been observed in recent years.

A major incentive for consumers to upgrade and pay more for their smartphones is a preference for models with large data storage capabilities that can accommodate more media.

Around a fifth (20%) of all devices sold last year had 128GB of storage or more compared to just 6% in the previous year, according to GfK, which said large storage is one of the most important features consumers look for.

The trend is particularly pronounced among consumers in Singapore and Malaysia where 18% and 6% respectively bought smartphones with storage of 256GB and more.

And the rollout of 5G in Singapore this year could well accelerate the trend, the GfK report added. “We can expect to be seeing a lot of buzz around 5G network and also anticipate the market to be heating up with lots of promotions around 5G smartphone models,” said Dehmel.

But much depends on how the coronavirus outbreak develops this year. “The impact of the coronavirus on global supply chains and production capabilities as well as weaker demand is likely to slow but not stop the growth of the category in Southeast Asia,” he said.

Sourced from GfK; additional content by WARC staff