iPhone 4S, Midrange Android Phones Drove 2011 Smartphone Market: IDC

Apple's iPhone 4S and other smartphones helped drive the worldwide smartphone market's notable growth, according to IDC.

Consumer demand for Apple's iPhone 4S and other next-generation devices helped the worldwide smartphone market grow 54.7 percent year-over-year in the fourth quarter of 2011, according to a new IDC report.

That surpassed IDC's earlier estimate. For the entirety of 2011, smartphone shipments totaled some 491.4 million units, up 61.3 percent from 304.7 million units in 2010. Although the iPhone 4S and other high-end smartphones attracted the lion's share of attention from the media and the blogosphere, manufacturers' midrange offerings contributed mightily to those final numbers.

"So-called 'hero' devices, such as Samsung's Galaxy Nexus and Apple's iPhone 4S, garner the bulk of the attention heaped on the device type," Kevin Restivo, a senior research analyst with IDC, wrote in a Feb. 6 statement accompanying the data. "But a growing number of sub-$250 device offerings, based on the Android operating system, have allowed Google's hardware partners to grow smartphone volumes and expand the market concurrently."

In IDC's estimation, Apple topped the list of worldwide smartphone vendors with 23.5 percent of the overall market in the fourth quarter of 2011, a notable increase from 15.9 percent in the fourth quarter of 2010. Trailing just behind it was Samsung, with 22.8 percent for the quarter, likewise a significant increase from its 9.4 percent during the same period in 2010.

Nokia came in third, with 12.4 percent of the worldwide market. IDC noted that the company passed the largest year-over-year decrease among top vendors, as it took its homegrown Symbian operating system offline in favor of new devices running Microsoft's Windows Phone.

Research In Motion and HTC finished fourth and fifth on that list, respectively, with 8.2 percent and 6.5 percent of the market. Once a more dominant presence in smartphones, RIM has seen its share decline in a number of markets, thanks to intense competition from the likes of Apple's iOS and Google's Android; the company hopes that its upcoming BlackBerry 10 operating system will reverse that slide.

Finally, HTC faced a year-over-year decline in its market share, from 8.5 percent to 6.5 percent. The company has launched several high-profile devices over the past several months, including the Rezound and Titan. "As has been HTC's approach all year long, these device launches kept the company's product portfolio well attuned to both operator and end-user tastes," read IDC's Feb. 6 note. "Despite the many high-profile launches during the quarter, however, the Taiwanese vendor still shipped lower volumes compared to the previous quarter."

With the popularity of smartphones seemingly on an irrevocable upswing among both consumers and businesses, trust that the competition between all these companies will only become fiercer in 2012.

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