Samsung and Apple Dominate 3Q12 Smartphone Sales, Nokia Not So Much

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As smartphones become increasingly popular, with market vendors shipping 179.7 million units in 3Q12, Samsung and Apple have once again dominated the Top 5 list of smartphone vendors, while Nokia dropped off the ranking for the first time in eight years.

According to market-research firm International Data Corporation (IDC), the decline of Nokia, which was replaced by the ailing Research In Motion, is in part due to the rise of Samsung and Apple globally, as well as the high-growth of vendors like Huwaei in China, which now plays a key role in an area where Nokia was once a dominant player as recently as last year. This marks the first quarter that Nokia has not been ranked on the Top 5 list since the inception of IDC’s Mobile Tracker in 2004.

IDC also likened Nokia’s transition away from Symbian-powered smartphones to ones backed with Windows Phone as another reason for the company’s drop in the rankings. Rivals were given an ample opportunity to steal shares away from Nokia in the past 18 months, as the company focused on its shift in operating systems, according to senior research analyst Kevin Restivo.

Yet, with the smartphone market still budding, there is plenty of room for multiples vendors and operating systems to flourish, including Nokia, said IDC.

“Nokia is not the only smartphone vendor in transition,” added Ramon Llamas, research manager with IDC. “Research In Motion, although still a market leader, expects to start shipping its first BB10 devices in 2013. Motorola, once the number 3 smartphone vendor worldwide, is redirecting itself under its parent company Google. These are just two vendors among many that feel the competitive pressure of Samsung and Apple, but are striving to create multiple points of differentiation to assert upward pressure.”

Compared to the 123.7 million units shipped in 3Q11, the worldwide smartphone market experienced a 45.3 percent year-over-year growth, with Samsung leading the pack, posting a record quarter of 56.3 million units shipped. Fueled in part by its diverse Android portfolio, which includes its flagship model the Galaxy S III, Samsung’s growth has increased to 31.3 percent of the market share, marking another first for this quarter: the first time since 4Q09 that a single company held more than 31 percent market share in a single quarter.

While iPhone shipments finished the quarter nearly flat from the previous one, reaching a total of 26.9 million units, Apple’s latest addition to its smartphone family, the iPhone 5, was only on the market for one week in 3Q12. With an aggressive rollout of the device, which resulted in more than 5 million iPhones sold in the first weekend of availability alone, it remains to be seen how Apple will fare during the holiday quarter, as the sixth-generation iPhone becomes more globally available.

Shipping 7.7 million units worldwide, RIM relied on its older product portfolio in the third quarter of 2012. While RIM’s installed base topped 80 million active users during the quarter, without a flagship handset or BB10 models launching in time for the holiday season, the company may not be able to hold onto its newly minted spot on the Top 5 list.

China-based ZTE and HTC rounded out the group for this time period, shipping 7.5 and 7.3 million units, respectively. As lower-cost smartphone sales increased in many emerging markets, ZTE was able to gain traction, while HTC held on to the number 5 smartphone spot thanks to sales of key models such as the HTC One X and the EVO 4G.

With smartphone shipments expected to grow as the role of mobile phones become greater in people’s lives, it will be interesting to see what effects the holiday season will have on next quarter’s results.

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