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Battle for smartphone top five becomes a scrum

Segment gets fragmented as Huawei achieves third place and six others scrap over the fourth and fifth rankings


Published: 30 October, 2013


The traditional quarterly rush of smartphone market share estimates has begun, and there are only small signs of threat to the top two, Samsung and Apple. However, there is a more intense rivalry for the other spots in the top five than we have seen for years. The Chinese majors are expanding their reach while more traditional, but faded, players like Sony, Motorola, LG and even Nokia start to stage a comeback.

This will lead to fragmentation in the short term, and then, most likely, a further shake-out, with success in the midmarket being critical to securing a firm place in the top five leagues of 2014. For now, the contest is so close that different analyst firms have estimated different top five rankings for the third quarter. Strategy Analytics and IDC both award third place to Huawei for the first time - estimating 12.5m and 12.7m units shipped respectively - and also see Lenovo entering the top quintet, but as Telecoms Europe notes, Juniper Research has Nokia in third position.

This is likely to reflect each firm's different definitions of 'smartphone', since Juniper includes Nokia's Asha range, which is not a true smartphone, since it does not have a full open operating system, but is often labeled a 'smart featurephone', as it offers many of the functions of its larger cousins.

Nokia, which sold 15m units across its Lumia and Asha ranges in the quarter, did not figure in the top five lists of the other two analysts publishing their ratings this week. IDC put Lenovo in fourth place, after Huawei, with 12.3m units shipped, and LG in fifth. Strategy Analytics reversed those rankings.

In terms of the total market size, Juniper assessed shipments to have hit a record 250m during the quarter, up almost 49% year-on-year, while Strategy Analytics said shipments were up 45% to 251m units and IDC estimated 38.8% growth with shipments of 258.4m.

Huawei's success still remains heavily reliant on its home market, which is, of course, now the largest in the world. Its P6 and G610 models have been particularly important there but the firm needs to build a more sustainable base in the US and Europe, from the starting point of its high profile Ascend family launches this year.

Up in the lofty heights of the top two, Samsung and Apple remain well ahead of the scrap going on below them, but the gap between them is widening. While last year saw them almost head-to-head, and often swapping positions, the Korean vendor's dominance is currently assured. According to Strategy Analytics. Samsung's shipments grew 55% year-on-year to 88.4m units, twice Apple's figure of 33.8m, and taking about one-third of global sales total. Apple, by contrast, saw shipments growth of 26%, well behind the overall smartphone segment increase of 45%, reflecting the company's failure to dazzle the market with recent upgrades, or to expand its range as effectively as Samsung or Huawei into emerging markets.

Strategy Analytics is, however, forecasting a recovery for Apple in the fourth quarter because of demand for its new iPhone 5s, reflecting how increasingly seasonal the US firm's results are, given its once-a-year launch cycle. By contrast, Samsung launches devices throughout the year with a wide range of models targeted at different user profiles and price points.

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