Samsung, Smartphones Ruled Q3, as Nokia Fell from 3rd to 7th

Samsung sold 98 million phones during third quarter, while Nokia, the smartphone leader until Samsung's Galaxy line came along, fell to seventh place.

Samsung's strategy of offering a varied smartphone portfolio with multiple price points continues to be a winning one. In a global phone market that declined 3.1 percent during the third quarter, Samsung grew by nearly 19 percent year-over-year, shipping 98 million mobile devices, Gartner announced Nov. 14.

Rising smartphone sales kept overall mobile phone totals from sinking more dramatically during the quarter, as consumers' diminishing interest in feature phones was made clear. Smartphone shipments increased by 47 percent during the quarter, accounting for 39.6 percent of all phones sold, or 169.2 million smartphones overall. Again, the majority of these were made by Samsung, which further increased the gap between itself and rival Apple during the quarter.

Samsung's shipments gave it a 23 percent share of the mobile device market, compared with Apple's 5.5 percent share on shipments of 23.5 million iPhones.

Nokia, kicked from the top spot by Samsung at the start of the year, held on to the No. 2 position overall, with shipments of 82.3 million phones for a 19.2 percent share. It plummeted, however, down the smartphone rankings—where again it had been displaced from the top seat by Samsung—from third place during the second quarter all the way to seventh.

Nokia sold 7.2 million smartphones and a total of 82.3 million mobile phones during the quarter. Down from sales of more than 105 million phones a year ago, its third-quarter sales nonetheless managed to surpass Gartner's more dire estimates.

"The arrival of the new Lumia devices on Windows [Phone] 8 should help to halt the decline in share in the fourth quarter of 2012," Gartner said in its report, "although it won't be until 2013 [that we see] a significant improvement in Nokia's position."

Gartner also expects that the iPhone 5, which arrived in the last days of the third quarter, will boost Apple's position in the fourth quarter—though for all vendors, the holiday-timed quarter isn't expected to offer all the gusto of past years.

"Consumers are either cautious with their spending or finding new gadgets like tablets, as more attractive presents," reported Gartner.

Device makers will nonetheless try to work the fourth quarter as best they can.

Coming as a great relief to Nokia, Microsoft finally released its Windows Phone 8 operating system Oct. 29—clearing the way for sales of those new Lumia handsets—and HTC and Samsung have also gotten behind the OS.

HTC, which has been among the brands more severely damaged by the success of Samsung's Galaxy smartphones, will also enter the quarter with the Droid DNA, a smartphone introduced Nov. 13 and exclusive to Verizon Wireless that's also shooting to revitalize the Droid brand.

HTC fell to the 10th spot during the third quarter, with sales of 8.4 million devices. Motorola finished ahead of it, with sales of 8.6 million units, and Research In Motion, with sales of 8.9 million BlackBerry smartphones, finished eighth.

Android was the top-selling mobile operating system during the quarter, shipping on 122.5 million smartphones. It was followed by iOS, which ran on 23.6 million devices, and Research In Motion, which was on nearly 9 million devices. Microsoft finished sixth, behind Bada and Symbian, respectively, as consumers interested in Windows Phone held out for the WP8 release, according to Gartner.

Still more consumers, Gartner expects, held out on an iPhone purchase during the third quarter, setting up Apple for a big 2012 finish. With the iPhone 5's arrival in China during the fourth quarter added to holdout sales and the holidays, Gartner analysts expect "Apple will have its traditionally strongest quarter."