Apple topped the smartphone market during the fourth quarter of 2011, but add in feature phones, and it's Nokia that, despite falling shares, is still the global leader, according to market research firm IDC.
Nokia shipped 113.5 million units during the quarter, down from 123.7 million during the same quarter a year ago, IDC analysts said in a Feb. 1 report. No. 2 Samsung shipped 97.6 million during the quarter, up from 80.7 a year ago, and third-place Apple also grew aggressively-from 16.2 million to 37 million during the quarter, pushing ahead of LG Electronics, which fell from 30.6 million units in the fourth quarter of 2010 to 17.7 million last quarter.
Fifth place went to ZTE, which inched from 15.7 million to 17.1 million units.
Overall, the market grew 6.1 percent year-over-year, moving a total of 427.4 million units during the quarter, up from 2010's 402.8 million. It was better growth than analysts anticipated, though still below the 9.3 percent growth logged a year earlier.
"The introduction of high-growth products, such as the iPhone 4S, which shipped in the fourth quarter, bolstered smartphone growth," IDC Senior Research Analyst Kevin Restivo said in a statement. "Yet overall market growth fell to its lowest point since 3Q09 when the global economic recession was in full bloom."
Feature phone shipments continue to fall-though they also continue to dominate, comprising the majority of all mobile phone shipments from four of the five market leaders, reported IDC.
To meet the challenge of maintaining market share, said IDC Senior Research Analyst Ramon Llamas, "feature phones are becoming more like smartphones, incorporating mobile Internet and third-party applications. While this may not stem the smartphone tide, it should slow down the rate at which smartphones are selected over feature phones."
Nokia offered an example of the latter, introducing the smartphone-like Asha feature phone last year alongside its Lumia smartphone line.
"Nokia has been quick to adjust its retail experience, customer engagement and hardware bug fixes," reports IDC. "At the same time, the increased focus on the Lumia, combined with changing market conditions in key markets, has prompted Nokia to change its strategy on Symbian smartphones. Fewer Symbian devices will be sold in 2012. Still, Nokia's broad distribution around the world and manufacturing capabilities make it a serious contender to maintain its leadership position."
Samsung, the new burr in Apple's side, finished the year with record sales, passing the 90 million unit mark for the first time in a quarter and the 300 million mark for the first time in a year. It finished at 329.4 million units, to Nokia's 417.1 million and Apple's 93.2 million.
It's tempting to think Apple needs a feature phone, but Samsung's growth, said IDC, was led by several high-end devices and mass-market models-namely the Galaxy S II, the Galaxy Note, the Galaxy Nexus, the Galaxy Ace and the Galaxy Y-as well as its new Windows Phone smartphones, the Focus Flash and the Focus S. These devices, along with its feature phones, pushed Samsung within 20 million units of market leader Nokia for the quarter.
Apple also enjoyed record-breaking sales during the quarter, lifting it from fifth place in the third quarter to the No. 3 spot. This came, thanks to the iPhone 4S, which, now in 90 countries, has sold particularly well in the United States and Japan, said the report, given carrier distribution and the extra sales days in the quarter.
LG device numbers declined for the third consecutive quarter, though the 2011 fourth quarter did see it return to profitability, and the company received a warm reception for its Optimus Long-Term Evolution (LTE) smartphones. That was a particularly good thing, given that falling shares are blamed on old feature phones and "stalled smartphone volumes."
For the full year 2011, the worldwide mobile phone market grew 11.1 percent, down from 2010's 18.7 percent. Still, as smartphones continue to take market share from a nonetheless fighting feature phone market, IDC expects "continued double-digit growth in the years ahead."