Apple became the third largest mobile phone vendor in the world during the fourth quarter of 2011, as well as the top-selling smartphone vendor during those three months, Gartner reported Feb. 15. Canalys and iHS iSuppli have already shared fourth-quarter results, which also show healthy returns for Apple and its iPhone franchise.
Smartphone sales grew 47.3 percent during the quarter, to 149 million units, bringing the annual total to 472 million devices an increase of 58 percent from 2010. Smartphones, with big thanks to the iPhone, accounted for 31 percent of all device sales, according to Gartners report.
"In Western Europe the spike in iPhone sales in the fourth quarter saved the overall smartphone market after two consecutive quarters of slow sales," Garter analyst Roberta Cozza wrote in the report. Western Europe and North America, she added, were Apple's strongest markets during the quarter.
Nokia and Samsung, respectively, led the market. However, asides from Apple, the big stories of growth belonged to Chinese vendors ZTE and Huawei, which have been pushing to make their names better known. After Apple, these two companies were the fastest-growing vendors during the quarter.
"These vendors expanded their market reach and kept on improving the user experience of their Android devices," Cozza wrote.
Gartner ranked ZTE fourth during the quarter, with phone shipments of 18.9 million units, compared to 9 million a year earlier. LG Electronics followed in fifth place, with shipments at 16.9 million units nearly half of what it sold a year earlier and Huawei held sixth position, ahead of Research In Motion, with units rising from 7.8 million units in the fourth quarter of 2010 to 14 million units.
Gartner attributed ZTE's considerable success 71 percent growth sequentially to strong consumer interest in low-cost smartphones. Huawei, it added, pulled ahead of LG in the Android marketplace, thanks to its solid smartphone sales stemming from the decision to brand its devices under its own name. It has also, said Gartner, "continued to expand its portfolio into higher tiers as its tries to build more iconic products."
Research firm IDC, however, instead gave fourth billing to LG, finding it to have shipped 17.7 million devices to ZTE's 17.1 million still enough for it to have posted the third-highest year-over-year growth, at 8.9 percent, after Apple and Samsung's 128 percent and 20.9 percent, respectively.
"Long known as a purveyor of entry-level devices, ZTE's smartphones increasingly moved into the spotlight," according to IDCs 1 report. "Key models for the quarter included its popular mass-market Blade and mid-range Skate Android smartphones, and recently the company added its first Windows Phone-powered smartphone, the Tania."
Like IDC, Gartner found Nokia and Samsung to have led in mobile device sales during both the quarter and full year 2011, though by slightly more modest totals than IDC came to. By Gartner's figures, Nokia shipped 111.7 million units, down from 122.3 million a year ago, while Samsung rose to 92.7 million units, from 79.2 million.
Apple's strong shipments also helped it to take back some mobile operating system market share, though its iOS finished the quarter with a 23.8 percent share, to Android's 50.9 percent thanks to sales of Samsung handsets, more than any other.
Moving forward, however, with Apple fans sated for now with iOS 5, overall sales are expected to slow. Gartner expects the overall market to grow 7 percent in 2012, while the smartphone market increases by approximately 39 percent.
During the next few quarters, until the mayhem for a new iPhone begins again, Gartner expects Apple's OS share to drop.