Analysts have predicted that in four years' time there will be more mobile devices in use that people on the planet.

Mobile Devices OutNumber People by 2017
A customer (R) holds his new HTC One mobile phone during the first day of public sales at Taman Anggrek Mall in Jakarta, June 8, 2013. (Credit: Reuters)

By the time 2017 rolls around, the machines will well and truly have taken over, with analysts predicting that 6.6 billion mobile phones will be in use by that time and adding in tablets, mobile devices will outnumber people on the planet.

These predictions come from CCS Insight, who expect that this year 1.86 billion mobile phones will be sold around the world, over half of which will be what are classified as smartphones, highlighting the continued strong growth in this market. By 2017 more than two-thirds of all phones sold will be smartphones, up from less than 25% in 2012.

Smartphone sales passed a major milestone in the first three months of 2013, passing combined sales of feature and "dumb" phones for the first time. Sales have been driven by the launch of budget handsets with strong growth recorded particularly in emerging markets.

In more established markets like the US and western Europe the exponential growth in smartphones seen over the past couple of years will slow as they approach saturation point in the next three years. CCS predicts smartphone penetration will reach 80% by 2015 (up from 50% at the moment) and most of the growth in the smartphone market beond 2015 will come from emerging markets.

Staggering rise

CCS also reports a "staggering" rise in the rate of sales of tablets which when combined with smartphones will help see sales of tablets and smartphones reach 2.1billion units globally by 2017 - an increase of 2.5 times since 2012.

CCS Insights Predictions

As Apple prepares to show off its latest iPhone and iPad software at its annual developer conference in San Francisco, Marina Koytcheva, director of forecasting at CCS Insight, warns that it will soon have to make a choice between profit and market share:

"Having defined the modern smartphone era, Apple is struggling to keep up with overall smartphone market growth, particularly as that growth shifts toward emerging markets. Apple will have to choose between sustaining its profit margin and holding onto market share."

Koytcheva continues: "Android on the other hand is highly dependent on Samsung. As profit margins are squeezed Google will need to ensure Android remains a viable choice for other phone-makers."

The smartphone market is currently a two-horse race with Android dominating market share but Apple dominating profit margins. Microsoft and BlackBerry are struggling to remain viable alternatives while newcomers Tizen, Jolla and Firefox OS will look to offer alternative software options for hardware manufacturers to consider.

4G is likely to be a key driver of revenue for mobile phone networks in the coming years, with the UK currently just beginning to offer users the superfast mobile broadband standard. CCS Insight expects sales of 4G enable devices to grow tenfold between now and 2017, bringing total sales of such devices to over 650 million units, half of them in emerging markets.