Apple has overtaken Samsung as the world’s largest smartphone maker on the back of soaring sales of the latest iPhone that was launched in the fourth quarter of 2011.
Apple, which also supplanted LG as the third-largest overall mobile phone supplier by the end of last year, helped boost global sales of smartphones by 47 per cent to 149m units in the fourth quarter compared to the same period in the previous year, according to Gartner, the research group. Total smartphone sales in 2011 reached 472m units and accounted for 31 per cent of all mobile devices sales, up 58 per cent on 2010.
Apple’s success, which took its share of the smartphone market to almost a quarter, and the continued growth of Samsung came at the expense of traditional mobile phone vendors such as Nokia, Research In Motion, LG, Sony Ericsson and Motorola.
Gartner said that these vendors were also exposed to a much stronger threat in the lower end of the smartphone market from ZTE and Huawei, the Chinese handset makers, which were the fastest-growing vendors in the fourth quarter of 2011 after Apple.
ZTE moved into fourth place in the global handset market in the quarter, bolstered by a 71 per cent increase in smartphone sales as low-cost internet-enabled devices gained in popularity thanks to consumers trading up from lower-tech “feature” phones.
RIM dropped back three places to become the seventh-largest phone maker in the fourth quarter of 2011 after experiencing a 10.7 per cent sales decline. Gartner said that RIM’s delay with its BlackBerry 10 platform will further impair its ability to retain customers.
Nokia introduced its first Windows-based smartphone in several markets in the fourth quarter but Gartner said that sales were not enough to prevent a fall in Microsoft’s smartphone operating-system market share to 1.9 per cent, from 3.4 per cent a year earlier.
Strong iPhone sales also impacted Google’s Android market share in spite of Samsung’s success, which posted a slight decline on the quarter. Apple sold 35.5m smartphones in 2011, a 121.4 per cent increase year-on-year. Apple’s smartphone market share reached 23.8 per cent in the fourth quarter, and was the largest smartphone vendor for 2011 as a whole with a 19 per cent market share. Apple more than doubled its share of overall handset sales in the fourth quarter to 7.4 per cent.
Nokia’s share of smartphone sales fell to 12 per cent, from about 30 per cent a year, owing to a steep drop in shipments of its older Symbian operating system that is being gradually phased out.
Nokia’s overall mobile phone sales dropped 8.7 per cent to 111.7m units for the quarter, although it retained its spot as the largest overall vendor with a fourth-quarter market share of 23.4 per cent, down from 27.1 per cent.
In contrast, Samsung came closer to its promise to take the top spot in the market after the second-placed handset maker increased its market share to 19.4 per cent, from 17.5 per cent last year.
Roberta Cozza, principal research analyst at Gartner, said: “Western Europe and North America led most of the smartphone growth for Apple during the fourth quarter of 2011. In Western Europe the spike in iPhone sales in the fourth quarter saved the overall smartphone market after two consecutive quarters of slow sales.”
Global mobile device sales rose to 476.5m units in the fourth quarter of 2011, a 5.4 per cent increase from the same period in 2010. In 2011 as a whole, there were 1.8bn units sold, an 11.1 per cent increase from 2010. Gartner forecast the overall market to grow by about 7 per cent in 2012, and smartphone growth of about 39 per cent.