Published: 1 May, 2012
Samsung pulled off a double whammy in the first quarter, overtaking Nokia in the overall handset rankings and grabbing the smartphone top spot back from Apple. According to IDC, Samsung regained the smartphone market share lead, which it took from Nokia in Q311 but lost to Apple on the back of the iPhone 4S launch in Q411.
During the first quarter of 2012, Samsung shipped 42.2m smartphones worldwide, equating to 29.1% market share, while Apple shipped 35.1m iPhones, for 24.2% share. Both had seen significant year-on-year leaps in sales - in the year-ago quarter, Samsung sold just 11.5m smartphones and Apple 18.6m. "The race between Apple and Samsung remained tight during the quarter, even as both companies posted growth in key areas," said senior analyst Ramon Llamas in a statement.
Some research firms have calculated an even bigger lead for Samsung. Juniper Research said the Korean firm secured 33% share with 46.9m devices, with a somewhat different definition of smartphone (its figure for Apple, which of course has only one handset family, was the same).
"While Apple and Samsung have taken it in turns to lead the smartphone market over the last four quarters, it seems as if Samsung may now have established a firm lead in this space," said Juniper's statement.
The cellphone segment is increasingly concentrated in the hands of the big two. The IDC study shows Nokia suffering a 50.8% drop in shipments in the quarter, to 11.9m smartphones, while RIM's were down by almost 30% and HTC's by 23.3%. The sector as a whole totalled 144.9m units, compared to 101.7m a year before.
Meanwhile, the firm saw a very different pattern for Samsung's compatriot LG, which slid to fifth place in the overall handset league table after several years in third position after Nokia and Samsung. It successfully fought off then-close rivals Sony Ericsson and Motorola in 2009 to secure the bronze place, but has recently been struggling with slow progress in smartphones, decline in CDMA, and pressures from Chinese rivals in its low end business.
The company has recently shown some signs of recovery with its Optimus Android range, but this was not enough to prevent its slide in Q112. In the last quarter of 2011 it had ceded its third place to Apple, and now it has also been overtaken by ZTE, according to IDC calculations, and those by fellow researchers at Strategy Analytics. IDC's figures show Samsung with 93.8m handset shipments in the quarter, followed by Nokia with 82.7m, Apple with 35.1m, ZTE on 19.1m and LG well behind on 13.7m. This was in a total cellphone space which slipped by 1.5% year-on-year in unit terms, to 398.4m.
Of course, LG's shrinking market share is not all bad news - like Sony and Motorola before it, it has tried to reduce its reliance on low end, low margin handsets, where profits are being squeezed even further by new Asian rivals, and to sacrifice volumes for profits (a decision some think Nokia should also take).