The worldwide mobile phone market grew 21.7% in the first quarter of 2010 (1Q10), a strong rebound from the market contraction in Q1 2009. Growth was fuelled by increased demand for converged mobile devices, more commonly known as smartphones, and the global economic recovery. According to the International Data Corporation (IDC) Worldwide Mobile Phone Tracker, vendors shipped 294.9 million units in the first quarter of 2010 compared to 242.4 million units in the first quarter of 2009.
Converged mobile devices, which allow consumers and business people to trade wireless e-mails for example, have become increasingly popular as a wider and more powerful array of devices have become available. The device class and a recovering traditional mobile phone category helped the market avoid a repeat of 1Q09, when the market declined 16.6% in the midst of the global economic recession.
Growing demand for smartphones also helped Research In Motion (RIM) move into the top 5 vendor rankings for the first time. RIM, which replaced Motorola in the top 5, tied Sony Ericsson for the number 4 position in IDC's 1Q10 vendor rankings. RIM shipped 10.6 million units in the first quarter while Motorola, which had been a top 5 vendor since the inception of IDC's Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker in 2004, shipped 8.5 million units. Motorola, the number 2 overall vendor in 2004, registered a fifth place finish last year by virtue of its overall strength in the lower-growth traditional mobile phone category. Motorola has steadily lost share since 2004 when the market started its shift toward higher-end feature phones and smartphones. The ongoing shift has given rise to converged mobile device vendors such as RIM and Apple.
"The entrance of RIM into the top 5 underscores the sustained smartphone growth trend that is driving the global mobile phone market recovery," noted Kevin Restivo, senior research analyst with IDC's Worldwide Mobile Phone Tracker. "This is also the first time a vendor has dropped out of the top 5 since the second quarter of 2005, when Sony Ericsson grabbed the number 5 spot from BenQ Siemens."
"That the mobile phone market has rebounded by double digits year over year in a post-holiday quarter is definitely good news for the industry," said Ramon Llamas, senior research analyst with IDC's Mobile Devices Technology and Trends team. "Whereas last year we saw much uncertainty around demand and overall reluctance to introduce new devices, vendors have been very vocal about their intentions this year, with some even launching new devices in the first quarter of 2010. In addition, the continued emphasis on converged mobile devices points to greater revenue generation and profitability opportunities for vendors, which is a welcome change compared to the same quarter a year ago."
IDC believes the worldwide mobile phone market rebound will continue in 2010, though not at the same growth rate as the first quarter. "It should be noted that the market's first-quarter growth, while impressive, is relative to one of the worst quarters in mobile phone industry history (1Q09)," noted Restivo. "The market's growth should not be taken as a proxy for future quarters nor annual growth. In fact, the results essentially match our first quarter projections. We are still expecting growth of 11% for 2010."
* The Asia/Pacific (excluding Japan) region started the year off with a strong quarter driven mainly by Greater China. Overall, a wider array of low-cost smartphones available across the countries is driving penetration. Touchscreen-enabled devices remained a hot segment of the market, helping to drive the demand for converged mobile devices across the region.
* The Western European mobile phone market continued its rebound from the recession last quarter. The region's growth was driven by strong smartphone shipments compared to a year ago. New high-end devices were launched while inventories were cleared from the previous quarter. This paved the way for smartphone growth in the first quarter at the expense of the traditional phone category. Nonetheless, touchscreen feature phones and low-end devices, particularly from the Korean manufacturers, sold well in the first quarter.
* As expected, the United States mobile phone market declined sequentially. User interest, however, remained high for smartphones thanks to the rollout of Google's Nexus One and new devices from Motorola. Meanwhile, feature phone shipment volumes, which have declined steadily in previous quarters, were buoyed by sustained interest in quick messaging devices.
* In Canada, the first quarter was similar to that of the U.S. as significant Android phones, namely the Motorola Milestone and Samsung's Galaxy Spica, were introduced. There was also a continued emphasis by suppliers on quick messaging devices in the traditional mobile phone category.
* The Latin American mobile phone market also rebounded in the first quarter due to higher demand from partners for feature phones and converged devices. Country currencies have stabilized as well, helping boost consumer spending on phones. Manufacturers and operators included social networking features in more phones sold in Latin America. Vendors are also planning for regional growth with the creation of local assembly plants.
Top Five Mobile Phone Vendors
Nokia started the year with a strong first-quarter unit shipment performance, driven by its top-selling 5130 and 2700 models. Shipments of 107.8 million in 1Q10 represented a nearly 16% improvement over the same quarter last year. The overall figures, however, fell short of the first-quarter high it set in 2008. Converged mobile device shipments increased sharply on a year-over-year basis due to top-selling models such as the 5230, 5800, 5530, and X6. However, average selling prices for converged mobile devices dropped to €155 in 1Q10, compared to €186 in the previous quarter. Nokia plans to ship the N8 (the first converged device to run the Symbian 3 operating system) in the third quarter. The N8 will cost €370, according to Nokia, and is expected to boost Nokia's overall ASP.
Samsung held steady as the number two vendor worldwide for the twelfth consecutive quarter with total shipment volumes greater than those of the next three vendors combined. Driving its results was a combination of new devices launched and expansion of distribution channels within emerging markets. Moreover, efforts to bring high end devices, including touchscreen phones and converged mobile devices, pushed ASPs higher. Samsung plans to launch more Android and bada-powered devices later this year while launching more touch-enabled devices for the mass-market.
LG Electronics remained the number three vendor worldwide with year-over-year shipment growth of nearly 20%, but declining revenue and profit due to seasonality and reduced prices. The abundance of feature phones at varying price points kept the company in good stead with carriers and customers, particularly within emerging markets where LG reaped triple digit growth. Still, the lack of a broad and deep smartphone portfolio made it vulnerable to competitor share gains, particularly within North America. LG plans to introduce several Android, Windows Mobile 6.5, and Windows Phone 7 devices later this year while expanding its global platform to reach new markets.
Research In Motion makes its first appearance among the top five vendors worldwide, with total shipments surpassing those of Motorola by nearly 2 million units. Research In Motion is the only vendor in the top 5 with a singular focus on smartphones, and as a result, the company enjoys the highest average selling prices within that group. Key to its success in the first quarter was the popularity of its BlackBerry Curve 8520 and BlackBerry Bold 9700 across multiple markets as well as its global prepaid offerings. Strong consumer adoption, particularly among text-crazy teens, has also fuelled demand for BlackBerry devices.
Sony Ericsson returned to profitability in the first quarter due to cost cutting and new product introductions. The joint venture launched six new handsets including three new Greenheart models - Aspen, Elm, and Hazel - as well as the Xperia X10 and Vivaz converged devices. Average selling prices rose 12% as Sony Ericsson pruned several less-profitable products from its lineup. However, overall shipments in the first quarter fell 28%. Three new converged devices – the Vivaz pro, Xperia X10 mini, and Xperia X10 mini pro – will ship towards end of the second quarter.