Apple number one smartphone vendor again, say research firms

Samsung had overtaken Apple in the third quarter, as customers waited for the iPhone 4S

Apple has emerged as the number one smartphone vendor worldwide in the fourth quarter of 2011, by a small margin, after losing ground to Samsung in the previous quarter, research firms Strategy Analytics and IHS iSuppli said.

But the Korean giant has emerged as the market leader for the first time in 2011, the research firms said Thursday. Samsung shipped nearly 100 million smartphones during the year.

Samsung had a close to 20 percent share for the year, in comparison to Apple's 19 percent share, according to Strategy Analytics.

Samsung had overtaken Apple in the third quarter, as customers waited for the iPhone 4S. Apple's introduction of the new phone in the fourth quarter unleashed tremendous pent-up demand for the iPhone as consumers awaited the arrival of the latest model, said IHS iSuppli.

Besides competing in the market, Apple and Samsung are in fierce patent litigation, with Apple trying to block Samsung devices in many markets.

Global smartphone shipments grew 54 percent annually to reach a record 155 million units in the fourth quarter, said Strategy Analytics.

Apple's smartphone shipments in the fourth quarter were 37 million, up 128 percent from the same quarter a year ago, it said. Shipments by Samsung in the quarter were 36.5 million, up 241 percent.

Nokia's global smartphone market share halved from 33 percent in 2010 to 16 percent in 2011, mainly on account of a lackluster touchscreen smartphone portfolio and a limited presence in the U.S. market, Strategy Analytics said. Nokia's partnership with Microsoft will be very much in focus during 2012, and the industry will be watching closely to see how swiftly the two companies can expand in the high-value 4G LTE (long term evolution) market that is rapidly emerging across the U.S., Japan and elsewhere, it added.

Other major Android licensees like Sony Ericsson and Motorola did not match Samsung's strong smartphone performance in the fourth quarter or for the entire year, indicating that the Android smartphone market is becoming too crowded "as the various licensees compete for limited consumer mindshare and shelf space", IHS iSuppli said.

Sony Ericsson shipped 9 million phones in the fourth quarter, a 20 percent decrease year-on-year, citing fierce competition and price erosion as reasons for the poor result. Its results for the quarter, which included a net loss and a drop in revenue, highlighted the struggles of many vendors who rely on Google's Android to power its smartphones.

Global handset shipments meanwhile were 445 million units in the fourth quarter of 2011, up 11 percent from the same quarter in the previous year. Nokia is still the leader with a 25.5 percent share for the quarter and close to 27 percent share for the full year, but its share has fallen from over 30 percent in the previous year. Strategy Analytics said. Samsung was the number two, followed by Apple.

John Ribeiro covers outsourcing and general technology breaking news from India for The IDG News Service. Follow John on Twitter at @Johnribeiro. John's e-mail address is john_ribeiro@idg.com

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