Apple, Samsung Lead Mobile Phone Market in 2012: Gartner

Despite strong smartphone sales, overall worldwide mobile phone sales posted a 1.7 percent decline from 2011 sales.

Smartphones continued to drive overall mobile phone sales, and the fourth quarter of 2012 saw record smartphone sales of 207.7 million units,according to a report from Gartner.

Worldwide mobile phone sales, however, totaled 1.75 billion units in 2012, a 1.7 percent decline from 2011 sales, according to Gartner.

Feature phone sales totaled 264.4 million units in the fourth quarter of 2012, down 19.3 percent year-on-year, suggesting weak demand in 2012 and particularly in the fourth quarter, when smartphone sales spiked during the holiday shopping season. Sales of feature phones are expected to continue their decline, while worldwide smartphone sales will be close to 1 billion units in 2013. Overall mobile phone sales are estimated to reach 1.9 billion units, the report predicted.

“The last time the worldwide mobile phone market declined was in 2009,” Gartner principal research analyst Anshul Gupta said in a statement. “Tough economic conditions, shifting consumer preferences and intense market competition weakened the worldwide mobile phone market this year.”

Apple and Samsung together raised their worldwide smartphone market share to 52 percent in the fourth quarter of 2012, up from 46.4 percent in the third quarter of 2012. Samsung ended the year in the top position in both worldwide smartphone sales and overall mobile phone sales.

Samsung’s overall smartphone sales continued to accelerate in the fourth quarter of 2012, totaling 64.5 million units, up 85.3 percent from the fourth quarter of 2011. Samsung totaled 384.6 million mobile phones sales for the year, of which 53.5 percent were smartphone sales--up from 28 percent in 2011.

Apple’s sales reached 43.5 million units in the fourth quarter of 2012, up 22.6 percent year-on-year. The company totaled 130 million smartphone sales worldwide last year, with strong continued demand for its iPhone 4 and 4S handsets. The arrival of the iPad Mini also created a dilemma for some users when deciding to upgrade an iPhone 4 or iPhone 4S to an iPhone 5, or buy the new tablet, the report noted.

“There is no manufacturer that can firmly lay claim to the No. 3 spot in global smartphone sales,” Gupta said. “The success of Apple and Samsung is based on the strength of their brands as much as their actual products. Their direct competitors, including those with comparable products, struggle to achieve the same brand appreciation among consumers, who, in a tough economic environment, go for cheaper products over brand.”

In the smartphone operating system (OS) market, Android captured more than 50 percent of the OS market, widening the gap with Apple’s iOS. While Android grew 87.8 percent in the fourth quarter of 2012, BlackBerry’s (formerly RIM) share declined 44.4 percent in the same period. Research figures show Microsoft had a better fourth quarter, with its share growing 1.2 percentage points and its smartphone sales increasing 124.2 percent year-on-year.

“2013 will be the year of the rise of the third ecosystem as the battle between the new BlackBerry10 and Windows Phone intensifies,” Gupta said. “As carriers and vendors feel the pressure of the strong Android’s growth, alternative operating systems such as Tizen, Firefox, Ubuntu and Jolla will try and carve out an opportunity by positioning themselves as profitable alternatives.”