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America’s booming unlocked smartphone market draws notice

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Malarie Gokey/Digital Trends

With two-year contracts slowly but surely going the way of the dodo, more Americans than ever are looking at new ways to buy smartphones. And that trend seems now to have spilled into the unlocked smartphone market, as market research firm Strategy Analytics found it to be increasing at a significant rate in its recent report.

According to the firm, 14.6 million unlocked smartphones were shipped last year in the United States, which represents a 140-percent increase from 2014’s 6.1 million shipped smartphones. Thanks to the substantial increase, unlocked smartphones comprised nine percent of the estimated 158.7 million shipped smartphones last year, a solid indicator of consumers’ increasing interest in the flexibility of an unlocked smartphone, which includes taking it to other U.S. and, potentially, international carriers.

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Looking at things at a more granular level, Florida-based manufacturer Blu solidified its position at the top of the unlocked smartphone charts, with the company reportedly shipping an estimated 5.2 million smartphones last year. Assuming that figure holds up, this represents a 160-percent increase from the two million smartphones Blu was said to have shipped in 2014.

Trailing Blu by a rather wide margin is Apple, which shipped an estimated 1.8 million iPhones in the U.S. in 2015, an increase from the 1.4 million handsets the company is said to have shipped in 2014. These figures are all the more impressive for Apple, since iPhones are mainly seen as phones you can only get through carriers, though we have a hunch that the iPhone Upgrade Program had something to do with these numbers.

However, no company saw more impressive growth year-over-year in the American unlocked smartphone market than Motorola. In 2014, the Lenovo-owned manufacturer is said to have only shipped a measly 100,000 smartphones. Fast forward one full year, and that number jumped to 1.4 million smartphones, a 1,300-percent increase from 2014.

As for what the future has in store, Strategy Analytics director Linda Sui believes the unlocked smartphone market in the U.S. will grow to capture 14 percent of the overall U.S. smartphone market.

“The unlocked smartphone market is the faster-growing segment in the U.S., which is the most valuable smartphone market worldwide,” said Sui. “No smartphone makers can afford to ignore the booming unlocked smartphone market in the U.S.”