Apple-Led Smartphone Sales Fuel 20 Percent Mobile Phone Market Growth

Smartphone sales, thanks to lowered costs and emerging markets, helped grow the global mobile phone market in Q1, according to IDC. Fourth-ranking Apple enjoyed the quickest growth of all.

Brisk smartphone sales-with Apple's the briskest of all-helped push global mobile phone shipments to 371.8 million units during the first quarter, IDC reported April 28. The figure was a 20 percent jump from the 310.5 million units that shipped a year earlier.

Key drivers in the smartphone sales, said the research firm, was growth in emerging markets such as Latin America and Asia/Pacific, the Middle East and Africa, and the availability of more affordable smartphones to a greater variety of people.

Stronger performers during the quarter were those with a smartphone-specific focus, such as HTC, IDC said.

"Several notable vendors, including feature phone makers, outpaced the overall market, which contributed to share losses of some top suppliers," Kevin Restivo, senior research analyst with IDC's Worldwide Mobile Phone Tracker, said in a statement. "The growth of companies outside the top 5 vendors-vendors in the 'Others' category, such as Micromax, TCL-Alcatel, Huawei and Research In Motion-shows that the overall market is still very much ripe for share gains."Nokia, despite its struggles, led the worldwide mobile phone market on shipments of 108.5 million units, which enabled it to nab a positive 0.6 percent year-over-year change. During the quarter, Nokia announced what IDC refers to as its "transformation strategy." This included shifting its primary focus from the Symbian OS to Microsoft's Windows Phone OS, which handsets set to arrive in 2012. Still, Nokia introduced two high-end, Symbian-running smartphones during the quarter, the E6 and X7, and announced a dual-SIM phone called the C2."What remains to be seen," said IDC, "is how quickly Nokia will introduce new phones as competition intensifies."Samsung further closed the gap between itself and Nokia during the quarter, posting record volumes of 70 million units. While feature phone represent the majority of its shipments, its smartphone offerings are growing and now represent a fifth of its total volumes, said IDC. With the Galaxy S II and other 4G smartphones coming to market this year, the firm believes Samsung is likely to reach its goal of shipping 50 million smartphones this year.Third-place LG Electronics saw shipments decline year-over-year for the third consecutive quarter, while Apple leapt ahead of ZTE into the number-four spot, with the highest growth rate in the top 5. It accounted for 5 percent market share, versus 2010's first quarter 2.8 market share, while ZTE saw its share climb from 2010's 3.3 to 4.1 percent most recently."Apple's results were buoyed by strong sales on Verizon Wireless and additional carrier deals; the company is now on 186 carriers operating in 90 countries," stated the report, adding that the iPhone "once again sold particularly well in developed economic regions ... such as North America and Western Europe."Fifth-ranking ZTE sells primarily feature phones, though it plans "to create brand awareness and sell more devices in developed markets, such as the U.S., this year," stated the report.Analysts at financial services firm Jefferies and Co., in an April 29 research note regarding RIM's April 28 warning that its revenue and handset shipments will skew toward the lower end of estimates in its quarter ending May 28, named ZTE among the phone makers likely to give RIM some added competition. While 4G phones will challenge it on the high end, and Apple will come it from the mid-tier, on the low end, the analysts wrote, "We believe Huawei and ZTE are approaching carriers with $100 Android smartphones.""Feature phones have represented the majority of mobile phone shipments, but still are under tremendous pressure from smartphones," reported IDC's Ramon Llamas. "Even popular quick-messaging devices ... once a bright spot within the feature phone market, appear to be losing steam as smartphones gain popularity."Nonetheless, he added, don't expect feature phones to make a hasty exit. "There is still strong demand across the globe," said Llamas.