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China overtakes US as largest smartphone market

Carlos Barria / Reuters

People enter a subway station in People's Square, Shanghai April 28, 2011.

For the first time, China has surpassed the United States to become the world's largest smartphone market by volume.

"The United States remains the world’s largest smartphone market by revenue, but China has overtaken the United States in terms of volume," said Neil Mawston, Strategy Analytics executive director. "China is now at the forefront of the worldwide mobile computing boom. China has become a large and growing smartphone market that no hardware vendor, component maker or content developer can afford to ignore.”

The research firm said that smartphone shipments reached a record 24 million units in China during the third quarter of this year, compared to 23 million units in the United States.

China, of course, is already the world's largest country, with a population of 1.3 billion; the United States' population is 313 million.

“China’s rapid growth has been driven by an increasing availability of smartphones in retail channels, aggressive subsidizing by operators of high-end models like the Apple iPhone, and an emerging wave of low-cost Android models from local Chinese brands such as ZTE," said Tom Kang, Strategy Analytics director.

Indeed, Android phones are coming to dominate much of the world: Another report, from Canalys, said that Google's mobile OS has almost 50 percent of the global smartphone market, dominating in the Asia-Pacific region.

While Apple's phone is popular in China, it is not prevalent.

"Nokia currently leads China’s smartphone market with 28 percent share, while HTC heads the United States smartphone market with 24 percent share," Kang said.

"The relatively slow migration to higher-speed networks in China to date reflects the fact that smartphone penetration is still low — but rising fast," Wireless Intelligence noted at the end of the second quarter of this year.

"Smartphones are thought to account for around 10 percent of China's total base, but the exact figure is hard to calculate due to the large number of 'grey market' smart devices in the market. China Mobile, for example, says it already has 5.6 million iPhone users on its network, even though the devices can only currently access the operator's (older) 2G ... network and the device is not retailed by the operator."

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