Samsung, Apple Sales Battle Likely to Continue
Considering that incomes are generally lower than in the U.S. and Western Europe, this makes the iPhone a device that only the elite can afford. While the iPhone remains a status symbol for many around the world, most people can't afford status symbols.
But people can afford smartphones if they're reasonably priced and if the data plans are also reasonable. The difference between the United States and elsewhere in terms of data plans is that the demand for 4G speeds doesn't exist in most parts of the world. In fact, all that most people need can be satisfied by much slower data plans that deliver email and messaging, but not movies and music.
In other words, the market in most of the world is different from the market in the United States and the phones that Samsung sells meet those differing needs more closely than the phones sold by Apple. When you look at the manner in which Samsung has tailored their product lineup on a global basis, it's clear why they're outselling Apple.
But the third quarter of 2011 was the first quarter in which this sales edge was obvious. While nobody knows for sure what all of the factors might have been, the most likely explanation is that the rest of the world is catching up to the United States in terms of perceived need to have a smartphone. This meant that a lot more smartphones should be selling outside the United States. In fact, that's apparently the case, since a number of analyst reports published recently say that smartphone sales dropped slightly in the United States in the third quarter.
Exactly why sales in the United States dropped could be at least partly explained by the anticipation of the new iPhone. It could also mean that the smartphone market in the United States is becoming saturated. The rate of sales could also be explained by the economy, although that seems less unlikely, since consumer confidence was up during the same period.
But now that we're in the fourth quarter, I think Samsung is unlikely to keep that lead for the long term. The biggest reason is that the iPhone 4S was released in early October and sales were very strong. While the Galaxy S II sales globally have been very strong, part of those sales were in the third quarter and it's not clear that fourth quarter sales will be strong enough to offset Apple sales. In the short term, I think that we'll see Samsung and Apple trading the top spot, depending on which company has the newest, most in-demand device during a specific quarter.