Global smartphone sales in the fourth quarter of 2011 soared to 149 million units -- a 47.3 percent increase from the fourth quarter of 2010, according to Gartner. What's more, smartphone sales during full-year 2011 reached 472 million units and accounted for 31 percent of all mobile-device sales -- a 58 percent rise from 2010, the firm's analysts said Wednesday.
During the fourth quarter Apple became the world's third-largest mobile-handset vendor overall. The iconic device maker also led the global smartphone field with a 23.8 percent market share and 35.5 million unit shipments.
"Western Europe and North America led most of the smartphone growth for Apple during the fourth quarter," said Roberta Cozza, a principal research analyst at Gartner. "In Western Europe the spike in iPhone sales in the fourth quarter saved the overall smartphone market after two consecutive quarters of slow sales."
Even better for Apple, it led the global smartphone market by claiming a 19 percent market share for all of 2011. However, given that Apple will not benefit from delayed purchases as it did in the fourth quarter of 2011, Gartner's analysts expect its explosive 121.4 percent iPhone sales growth to decline on a sequential basis in the current quarter.
Nokia's Sliding Handset Sales
Worldwide sales of mobile devices overall rose 5.4 percent to 476.5 million units in last year's fourth quarter, and for the year as a whole 1.8 billion units were shipped -- an 11.1 percent increase from 2010. This year Gartner expects the handset market overall to grow by about 7 percent. Moreover, smartphone growth is expected to slow to around 39 percent.
Nokia led the handset market overall by shipping 111.7 million units in the final quarter of 2011. However, Samsung Mobile narrowed its gap with Nokia by shipping 92.7 million handsets overall, including strong sales of 34 million smartphones.
"Nokia proved its ability to execute and deliver on time with its new Lumia 710 and 800 handsets, [but] will have to continue to offer aggressive prices to encourage communications service providers to add its products to portfolios currently dominated by Android-based devices," Cozza said.
Nokia's handset shipments during the final three months of 2011 fell 8.7 percent from the year-earlier quarter. Nokia recently said it would be moving its smartphone assembly activities from sites in Europe and Mexico to China, which places the smartphone maker in closer proximity to its component suppliers and customers in greater China and the Asia-Pacific -- Nokia's top handset market.
A Competitive Adjustment
The relocation of Nokia's assembly facilities is not expected to have a major effect on the company's handset sales in Europe, said Francisco Jeronimo, research manager for European devices at IDC.
"Carriers in Europe don't really care where devices are manufactured or assembled," Jeronimo said. "What they care about is price and delivery."
Jeronimo believes the move's only potential downside is that it might limit Nokia's ability to adjust its deliveries to smaller volumes. "As carriers are working with lower volumes and more frequent purchases to avoid risks of old stock, Nokia may lose some flexibility," Jeronimo said.
The move of assembly facilities away from Europe is already happening because the competition is getting tougher, said Gartner Vice President Carolina Milanesi.