Lenovo bites at Samsung's heels in China
Gartner says the local vendor will keep number two spot in 2013 and narrow gap with Korean market leader
Published: 23 November, 2012
China is now the world's largest smartphone market but it plays by very different rules from the one it overtook, the US. The three cellcos are even more powerful and the role of Apple is smaller, partly because it has not succeeded in making a deal with the largest operator, China Mobile. There is also a greater focus on local vendors, which are riding high on the growth of their home market, also disadvantaging Apple.
In fact, Android had a massive 90% share of smartphone sales in China in the third quarter, according to local research firm Analysys. Although the figures tend to exclude important factors such as grey imports (very relevant to iPhones), the company's ratings are generally reliable and they indicate massive expansion for the Google OS, up from under 60% a year earlier.
That is partly because all the major Chinese vendors - Lenovo, Huawei, ZTE, Alcatel/TCL and others - all use Android as their premier OS, although Samsung is the market leader, while other non-Chinese Android vendors like HTC and Sony are launching many models optimized for the country. This is not always good news for Google, since many Chinese vendors support user experiences, like those of Baidu and AliBaba, which use the Android kernel but virtually exclude the search giant's own brand and services.
And while Apple's share has been squeezed in China over recent quarters, making it urgent for the firm to create a TD-SCDMA/TD-LTE iPhone for the largest operator, Samsung cannot rest on its laurels either. According to another research firm, Gartner, Lenovo will become China's largest domestic smartphone provider next year and will be biting at its Korean rival's heels.
Gartner says Lenovo has already achieved the number two spot on a quarterly basis, taking 14.8% share in the third quarter, up from just 1.7% a year earlier, and overtaking Apple (on 6.9%). Samsung had 16.7% of unit sales in the period. This is a significant achievement for Lenovo which, despite being the world's top PC maker, has never made much mobile impact. In 2007 it sold its cellphone division to an affiliated private equity group for US$100m, but then bought it back in 2009 for $200m. It has huge brand recognition and distribution channels in China, where it positions its handsets at the midrange.