Strong holiday smartphone sales raised shipments of the Apple iPhone, Android-powered devices and other handsets to levels nearly equal to those of feature phones, as the worldwide mobile phone market grew 1.9 percent year over year in the fourth quarter of 2012 (4Q12), according to IT research firm IDC’s latest Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker.
Samsung set a new record for the number of smartphones shipped in a single quarter and in a single year, thanks to the extensive and varied lineup of Android smartphones, in particular the popular Galaxy-branded Android family. Sales in Western China, where shipments more than doubled, helped rival Apple set a record for total iPhone shipments-- in the United States, 6.2 million iPhones were activated on network operator Verizon alone.
In the worldwide smartphone market, vendors shipped 219.4 million units in 4Q12, representing 45.5 percent of all mobile phone shipments, the highest percentage ever. Despite impressive shipments numbers, the 36.4 percent year-over-year growth was slightly below IDC's forecast of 39.5 percent for the quarter.
"The high-growth smartphone market, though dominated by Samsung and Apple, still presents ample opportunities for challengers," IDC's Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker senior research analyst Kevin Restivo said in a statement. "Vendors with unique market advantages, such as lower-cost devices, can rapidly gain market share, especially in emerging markets. A good example is Huawei, which overtook LG as a Top 5 vendor in the overall mobile phone market and passed HTC to become a Top 5 smartphone vendor."
Previously a Top 10 vendor, Huawei made impressive gains—rising to third place with a nearly five percent market share--by focusing on innovation, having released the world's thinnest smartphone last year, the Ascend P, while simultaneously courting the mass market with its simple and inexpensive smartphones. This year the company announced the upcoming Ascend Mate, the first smartphone with a 6.1-inch display.
"The fact that Huawei and ZTE now find themselves among the Top 5 smartphone vendors marks a significant shift for the global market," IDC's Mobile Phone team research manager Ramon Llamas said in a statement. "Both companies have grown volumes by focusing on the mass market, but in recent quarters they have turned their attention toward higher-end devices. In addition, both companies have pushed the envelope in terms of industrial design with larger displays and smaller form factors, as well as innovative applications and experiences."
Sony, which introduced its Xperia TL last quarter and recently announced the addition of the Xperia Z and the Xperia ZL, to be launched in the first quarter of 2013, landed in fourth place, while ZTE, having grown its smartphone shipments of late thanks primarily to an uptick in lower-cost smartphone sales in many emerging markets, rounded out the top five. The company also shipped more smartphones than feature phones for the first time.