In 2013, for the first time ever, the total number of smartphones shipped worldwide is projected to surpass the total number of feature phones shipped. More specifically, the former category is expected to reach 937 million units this year compared to just 889 million units for the latter, as smartphone shipments grow to 1.45 billion units at a compounded annual rate of 26 percent between 2011 and 2016, and account for two-thirds of the mobile phone market.

The latest estimates come from market research company NPD, which expects the smartphone market to continue growing rapidly over the next two years, thanks to larger and higher-resolution displays, faster processors, as well as higher-capacities that make them satisfy many needs previously requiring other computing devices.

Here’s the forecast:

130520 worldwide mobile phone shipment forecast NPD: Smartphone shipments to overtake feature phones worldwide in 2013

If you’re getting a big feeling of déjà vu, that’s because IDC, another market research firm, made this prediction earlier this year. The difference is in the actual figure: IDC expects vendors to ship 918.6 million smartphones this year, or 50.1 percent of the total mobile phone shipments worldwide.

NPD’s estimate is coming later, so some would argue that it might be more accurate but the fact is the number of phones shipped doesn’t really matter. The final number will undoubtedly end up different by December (we wouldn’t be surprised if it passed a billion) and the point here is the two firms both agree smartphones will surpass feature phones this year.

In fact, on a quarterly basis, it’s already happened. IDC said vendors shipped 216.2 million units in Q1 2013, marking the first time more than half (51.6 percent) of the total phone shipments in a quarter were smartphones.

In its report today, NPD unsurprisingly says emerging markets are driving most of the smartphone growth, largely thanks to better download speeds as networks are upgraded to 3G and 4G as well as entry-level devices priced below $200. China in particular is pushing the entry-level smartphone category, grabbing 55 percent of shipments, not to mention the country also happens to be the largest market for smartphones as a whole.

At the other end of the market, NPD expects LTE-enabled smartphones to reach 23 percent market share in 2013. Shipments of AMOLED and LTPS LCD panels for full high-definition resolution smartphones are forecast to increase drastically, from 1.7 million units in 2012 to 113 million units in 2013.

This part of a bigger smartphone trend: it seems that users increasingly want bigger screens. In the smartphone space, more than half (57 percent) of displays are projected to range between 4″ to 5″, while screens larger than 5″ are expected to grow to 16 percent of the market.

It seems we’re reaching a tipping point this year. Yet already we’re wondering how long it will take before feature phones go the way of netbooks and furthermore, what will replace smartphones. Right now, it looks like wearable computing is the next horizon, but as we’ve learned, anything can happen in the mobile space, and quickly.

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