Apple outsmarts opposition in mobile wars

New figures show that Apple has significantly outsold smartphone brands that are trying to challenge it for Christmas sales in the UK, in spite of new models from its biggest competitors.

The battle for sales in the smartphone market stepped up in 2011, in part owing to the high-profile launch of Nokia’s first Windows phone as well as new branded entrants from Chinese manufacturers such as Huawei and ZTE.

Smartphone ownership nearly doubled in the UK between February 2010 and August 2011 to 46 per cent, according to figures from Ofcom, underlining how rapidly demand for expensive phones that connect to the internet is growing.

According to research – seen by the Financial Times – by GfK, which compiles sales data from the large operators, Apple’s iPhone 4s was the highest-selling phone in the four weeks to December 9. The model accrued almost a quarter of all sales, having only been introduced in October.

In total, five versions of Apple’s iPhone were in the top 15 handsets sold in the first week of December, accounting for more than 37 per cent of sales, according to the most recent data from GfK. One of the phones, the 3Gs, was launched more than two and a half years ago. Samsung’s latest phones also sold well in the run-up to Christmas, including the Galaxy II, which was the second-best selling phone in the week to December 9.

The UK launch of Nokia’s Lumia, its first smartphone based on a Windows operating system since its tie-up with Microsoft, has disappointed operators ahead of its US launch. It failed to break into the top 10 handsets sold in the UK in its first weeks on sale in November and December. It has sold only narrowly more than Nokia’s more basic “Touch and Type” phone in the period, even after a UK advertising campaign rumoured to cost more than £20m.

However, Nokia has said that it would be a slow build-up given its lack of a previous generation of this phone. Apple benefits from an established system that has a loyal following of customers who will often automatically upgrade to the latest incarnation of its handset.

There was better news for RIM, the troubled Canadian handset maker, with increased sales across the range of its BlackBerry device in the UK in the four-week period, even after the company suffered a coverage failure in the autumn. Three variants of its BlackBerry Curve were all in the top 10 handsets sold in the first week of December. Its latest smartphone, the Bold 9900, remained outside the top 10, according to GFK.

Analysts pointed out that consumers were much less affected by the outage than business users. They regarded the temporary failure in reception as an inconvenience rather than a critical business loss.

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