Worldwide mobile phone market declined 11.9% in Q1 2009

The first quarter of 2009 fulfilled an expected trend that will last throughout the calendar year, according to ABI Research. The worldwide mobile phone market shipped 35 million fewer units than it did during the same period one year ago, and all indications point to that trend continuing through Q4 2009, the research firm stated.

The mobile phone industry has long been characterised by its seasonal trends, where the first quarter always delivers a sequential decline after a busy holiday season. However, the drop in this first quarter was especially sharp, according to ABI Research practice director Kevin Burden. “The 255.6 million handsets shipped represented a 20% decline from Q4 2008, which was already a down quarter, and a nearly 12% decline from Q1 2008.”

Shipment reductions are a new reality for the mobile phone market. “The industry and consumers have gone into protection mode,” said Burden. “Protecting profitability has led handset manufacturers to produce less and to operators and retail outlets holding smaller inventories. Consumers are also realizing that many of the features they desire are already in the handset they currently use, and are willing to forego an upgrade until they have more confidence in their own futures.”

The Asia-Pacific region, with handset volumes triple that of the next largest region, had been widely expected to feel more than a fair share of pain due its very troubled economic conditions. However it posted only an 8% year on year decline, which was a spot of encouragement.

The Latin American market, however, tempered any encouraging news with a reminder of how deeply the recession can cut. The region had a nearly 28% decline in shipments, the largest decline of any region, due in large part to the devaluation of its currencies leading to higher prices of imported mobile phones.