The worldwide mobile phone market declined 1.5 percent year-over-year in the first quarter of 2012, as Samsung ousted longtime leader Nokia to become the world's top mobile phone vendor. According to IDC's Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker, vendors shipped 398.4 million units in the first quarter, compared with 404.3 million units in the first quarter of 2011.
Nokia has been the global market leader in total mobile phone shipments since the inception of IDC's Mobile Phone Tracker in 2004. Samsung's ascension to the market's top spot is largely a reflection of its gains in the smartphone market over the past two years, said Kevin Restivo, senior research analyst with IDC's Worldwide Mobile Phone Tracker program. "The halcyon days of rapid growth in the smartphone market have been good to Samsung," he said. "Samsung has used its established relationships with carriers in a mix of economically diverse markets to gain share organically and at the expense of former high fliers such as Nokia."
In the first quarter, the worldwide smartphone market grew 42.5 percent year-over-year, as Samsung overtook Apple for the smartphone leadership position. Vendors shipped 144.9 million smartphones during the quarter, compared with 101.7 million units in the year-earlier period. The 42.5 percent year-over-year growth was 1 percentage point higher than IDC's forecast of 41.5 percent for the quarter, and lower than the 57.4 percent growth in the fourth quarter of 2011.
"The race between Apple and Samsung remained tight during the quarter, even as both companies posted growth in key areas," said Ramon Llamas, senior research analyst with IDC's Mobile Phone Technology and Trends program. "Apple launched its popular iPhone 4S in additional key markets, most notably in China, and Samsung experienced continued success from its Galaxy Note smartphone/tablet and other Galaxy smartphones. With other companies in the midst of major strategic transitions, the contest between Apple and Samsung will bear close observation as hotly anticipated new models are launched."
Samsung reclaimed the smartphone leadership position and established a new market record for the number of smartphones shipped in a single quarter. Propelling the company forward was continued expansion of its Galaxy portfolio in nearly all directionsnew and old smartphones, product and market segmentation, and multiple price points, screen sizes and processor speeds, the IDC report noted. Apple slipped to second place in the worldwide smartphone market, but nonetheless posted strong year-over-year growth to reach 35.1 million units shipped. IDC said Apple's gains in the market benefited from iPhone availability at additional mobile operators worldwide, as well as sustained demand among both consumers and enterprise users.
Nokia's Symbian phone shipments declined precipitously last quarter as demand dropped in key emerging markets, such as China. The company's current smartphone woes make a speedy transition to products powered by the Windows Phone operating system, upon which it has bet its smartphone future, critical, the report noted. Research In Motion's BlackBerry unit decline continued last quarter, reaching levels not seen since 2009. Similar to Nokia, RIM is a company in transition. Smartphones running on its new platform, BB 10, will be released later this year. Until then, results like these may be a sign of things to come.
The IDC report said HTC's struggles in the U.S. market once again negatively affected its overall performance. However, its relatively strong performance in the Asia-Pacific still allowed the company to maintain its position among the top five smartphone vendors, the report noted. The company is staking future success in large part on its One X and S products.