Samsung’s fourth-quarter earnings report showed a 9% decline in mobile device sales from Q3, mirroring eerily the Nokia smartphone volume decline from autumn to holiday quarters. Of course, the two companies could not be more different… but that’s the point. Both the vibrantly strong, massive Samsung and the tiny, struggling Nokia delivered Christmas quarters that were far weaker than industry expected two months ago.
Neither is likely to give up dreams of volume growth, of course, and now that Microsoft owns Nokia’s phone business, both of these behemoths have money to burn in their bids to elbow out HTC, LG, Sony and their ilk.
Here’s the good news for all of us: There is likely some sort of a glut of smartphones that formed during the disappointing Christmas quarter and vendors will soon have to start goosing sales by new promotions. Microsoft cannot operate its smartphone business at current market share levels and it will have to buy share at any price to have a shot at viability.
Not coincidentally, United States mobile carriers are finally drifting to the edge of a genuine price war. As the American phone market finally hits saturation point, both hardware vendors and operators are simultaneously facing the necessity of price aggression. The T-Mobile decision to pay a substantial bounty to defectors from rival carriers was likely a genuine turning point.
As other carriers respond, the barriers to switching will suddenly drop down as people stop fretting over the penalties for breaking contracts. The next logical step is to sweeten the pot by offering handset discounts. That has been a big part of the brutal mobile price wars that have broken out in Spain and France over the past two years.
Phone vendor desperation to gain share via discounting combined with carrier battles for new subscribers could reshape the U.S. handset market in stunning ways in 2014. This could be a year of miracles for consumers. How about a 6 inch phablet for $99 with a cheap data plan by summer?