IDC: Apple Leapfrogs LG to Become No. 3 Mobile Phone Maker

The worldwide mobile phone market experienced its slowest growth in more than two years in the fourth quarter of 2011, but that slowdown didn't seem to affect Apple, which on the back of the iPhone 4S achieved fourth quarter year-over-year market share growth of 128.4 percent.

"The mobile phone market exhibited unusually low growth last quarter, which shows it is not immune to weaker macroeconomic conditions worldwide," said Kevin Restivo, senior research analyst with IDC's Worldwide Mobile Phone Tracker. "The introduction of high-growth products such as the iPhone 4S, which shipped in the fourth quarter, bolstered smartphone growth. Yet overall market growth fell to its lowest point since 3Q09 when the global economic recession was in full bloom."

Despite feature phones comprising the majority of all mobile phone shipments, and accounting for the majority of shipments by Apple's top competitors, Apple — which only makes smartphones — surged to the number three spot in terms of worldwide mobile phone market share. Apple shipped 37 million phones in the fourth quarter of 2011, giving it 8.7 percent share of the market. That's up 128.4 percent from the 16.2 million phones it shipped in the fourth quarter of 2010 (4 percent share of the market).

Nokia, while still king of the hill in terms of mobile phone shipments — it shipped 113.5 million units in the quarter — slipped to 26.6 percent market share, an 8.2 percent drop from the 30.7 percent share it enjoyed in the fourth quarter of 2010. Nokia continues to ship far more feature phones than smartphones, but IDC did note that it officially launched its first Windows Phone-powered Lumia smartphones during the quarter as shipments of its Symbian smartphones withered.

Samsung took the no. 2 spot for the quarter, shipping 97.6 million units in the quarter — the first time it has broken the 90 million mark. It attained 22.7 percent market share in the quarter, up 20.9 percent from the 20 percent share it held in the year-ago quarter. While the majority of its shipments were feature phones, IDC noted that Samsung's smartphone volumes surged, boosted by the recent release of high-end devices (Galaxy S II, Galaxy Note, Galaxy Nexus), mass market models (Galaxy Ace, Galaxy Y) and new Windows Phone smartphones (Focus Flash and Focus S).

LG, primarily a feature phone vendor, gave up its no. 3 spot to Apple. It shipped 17.7 million units in the quarter and dropped to 4.1 percent market share, a 42.2 percent decline from the 7.6 percent share it claimed in the year-ago quarter. IDC attributed the decline to waning interest in its aging feature phones and stalled smartphone volumes.

Finally, Chinese vendor ZTE rose to the no. 5 spot with 17.1 million unit shipments. It claimed 4 percent share of the market, up 8.9 percent from the 3.9 percent share it held in the year-ago quarter. IDC said that while ZTE is primarily known as a purveyor of entry-level devices, it has achieved some success with its smartphones, including its mass-market Blade and mid-range Skate Android phones and its new Windows Phone-powered Tania.

"Feature phones accounted for a majority of shipments from four of the five market leaders during the quarter," said Ramon Llamas, senior research analyst with IDC's Mobile Phone Technology and Trends team. "Even though their proportion is eroding, feature phones maintain their appeal on the basis of price and ease of use."

He added, "At the same time, feature phones are fighting to maintain their market share. To meet the challenge, feature phones are becoming more like smartphones, incorporating mobile Internet and third-party applications. While this may not stem the smartphone tide, it should slow down the rate at which smartphones are selected over feature phones."

Smartphones played especially strongly in North America, Asia/Pacific and Latin America. The iPhone 4S launch took center stage in North America. Asia/Pacific, long one of the strongest markets for feature phones, saw feature phone demand diminish while smartphone demand surged. IDC said iPhone 4S did very well in Australia, Hong Kong, Korea and Taiwan, while mid-range Chinese Android vendors shipped large numbers in their home market. Japan also saw strong demand for smartphones, particularly Apple's iPhone. IDC said non-Japanese vendors continued to make incremental gains there. Latin America saw a surge in demand for smartphones, particularly sub-$200 Android models, IDC said.

While Apple's iPhone (and phones powered by Google's Android) are often seen as consumer devices unlike their more enterprise-focused BlackBerry cousins, iOS devices and Android devices are taking over enterprise mobility as employees increasingly want to leverage their devices for work.

In their recently released Tech Trends 2012 report, Mark White, principal and CTO of Deloitte Consulting, and Bill Briggs, director and deputy CTO of Deloitte Consulting, said one of the top concerns of CIOs today is whether to allow employees to bring their own devices to the work environment.

Infrastructure vendors appear to be betting that the answer will be 'yes' in many cases. On Tuesday, IBM announced its intention to acquire Israeli firm Worklight for its mobile applications platform and tools for developing software for smartphones and tablets. Worklight's platform allows customers to develop mobile applications and supporting infrastructure just once and then deploy it to platforms like iOS and Android without having to engineer them for each platform specifically.

Thor Olavsrud is a contributor to InternetNews.com, the news service of the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals.



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