People sit on a bench using mobile phones on Orchard Road in Singapore. (Photographer: Nicky Loh/Bloomberg)  

IMF Says the Global Smartphone Boom Has Reached Its Peak

(Bloomberg) -- The global smartphone boom that’s helped propel Asia’s economic growth and reshape trade channels in recent years may have peaked.

That’s one of the observations tucked into the International Monetary Fund’s latest outlook for the world economy. While smartphone sales totaled 1.5 billion units last year -- enough for one of every five people on the planet -- shipments declined for the first time on record, the IMF said on Tuesday.

The demand, which “has created highly complex and evolving supply chains across Asia,” is highly cyclical and tied to the release dates of new models such as iPhones, the fund says. “Thus, production and trade in several Asian countries have become highly correlated, shaping a new tech cycle, which differs from the earlier tech cycle associated with personal computers,” the IMF said.

But as the market plateaus, don’t fret for Asia’s high-tech manufacturing sector, the fund said. Demand is picking up for things like car computers, smart appliances and wearable devices.

“While the global market for smartphones may become saturated, demand for other electronics products continues to boost production of semiconductors, particularly in Korea,” the IMF said in its latest World Economic Outlook. “Therefore, the influence of the tech sector on Asia’s export patterns and growth is unlikely to fade soon.”

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