The worldwide mobile phone market grew 2.4% year over year in the third quarter of 2012 (3Q12), driven by heavyweights Samsung and Apple as Nokia dropped off the Top 5 list of smartphone vendors. According to the International Data Corporation (IDC) Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker, vendors shipped a total of 444.5 million mobile phones in 3Q12 compared to 434.1 million units in the third quarter of 2011.
In the worldwide smartphone market vendors shipped 179.7 million units in 3Q12 compared to 123.7 million units in 3Q11. The 45.3% year-over-year growth was slightly above IDC's forecast of 45.2% for the quarter.
Equally noteworthy was the decline of Nokia, which was replaced by Research In Motion as a Top 5 smartphone player. Nokia's exit from the Top 5, where it had resided since the inception of IDC's Mobile Phone Tracker in 2004, was precipitated by the rise of Samsung and Apple globally and high-growth vendors like Huawei in China, where Nokia was the dominant player as recently as the third quarter of 2011.
"Nokia's share losses have meant gains for competitors," said Kevin Restivo, senior research analyst with IDC's Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker. "The company's transition away from Symbian-powered smartphones to ones shipped with Windows Phone has left ample opportunity for rivals to steal share away from Nokia over the past 18 months. However, the smartphone market is still relatively nascent, which means there's room for multiple vendors and operating systems to flourish, including Nokia."
"Nokia is not the only smartphone vendor in transition," added Ramon Llamas, research manager with IDC's Mobile Phone team. "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."
Nonetheless, IDC expects long-term mobile phone and smartphone shipment demand to grow due to the central role mobile phones play in people's lives. "At the heart of mobility is communication," noted Llamas. "Mobile phones and smartphones play a critical role in keeping people connected, regardless of location. In addition, their utility beyond communication – productivity, entertainment, and multimedia – continues to add to their value."
Smartphone Vendor Highlights
Samsung maintained its leadership position in the worldwide smartphone market, posting another record quarter for itself and the industry, and more than double the total volume of its next closest competitor, Apple. This marks the first time since 4Q09 that a single company held more than 31% market share in a single quarter. Samsung's growth was fueled in large part by its broad, deep, and refreshed Android portfolio, highlighted by the full quarter availability of its flagship model Galaxy S III. In addition, the company announced multiple mid-range and mass-market models, including a new Windows Phone, the ATIV S.
Apple iPhone shipments finished the quarter nearly flat from the previous quarter, reaching a total of 26.9 million units. Although the iPhone 5 was only on the market for one week in 3Q12, the aggressive rollout of the device resulted in more than 5 million iPhones sold in the first weekend of availability, which helped buoy Apple's shipment totals. iPhone sales weren't dampened by the introduction of its Maps software, which was not completely ready for use. Instead, the iPhone 5's larger screen and 4G LTE connectivity generated user interest. What remains to be seen is how Apple will fare during the holiday quarter, when the iPhone 5 will be available in more countries worldwide.
Research In Motion's shipment volumes appear to have flattened though the company posted the second-highest year-over-year decline of any the leading vendors. RIM relied on its older product portfolio and models to achieve its status as a top 5 smartphone seller. RIM's installed base, which topped 80 million active users during the quarter, provides further evidence of the company's widespread presence globally. Still, without a new flagship model in time for the holiday season and BB10 models not expected until the first quarter of 2013, RIM's position as a top 5 smartphone vendor will be under tremendous pressure from other companies.
ZTE finished among the top 5 smartphone vendors globally thanks to continued international diversification efforts last quarter. ZTE has grown its smartphone sales of late thanks primarily to an uptick in lower-cost smartphone sales in many emerging markets. The company has traditionally been dependent on sales of phones to China, where the company is based. However, notable progress was made in North America last quarter.
HTC clung to the number 5 smartphone spot last quarter thanks to sales of key models such as the HTC One X and the EVO 4G. Continued year-over-year growth in the Asia/Pacific region helped the smartphone vendor offset some of the share losses the vendor has endured in key mature markets, namely the U.S. The company hopes to rejuvenate its global fortunes this quarter with the introduction of the 8X and 8S models, powered by Microsoft's Windows Phone 8, among others. However, it will have to convince consumers that the differences between the models and Android-powered phones or iPhones are interesting enough to merit a purchase.