Global smartphone shipments climbed 54 percent to a record 155 million units in the final three months of 2011, Strategy Analytics said Friday. What's more, Apple reclaimed the lead from Samsung as the world's No. 1 smartphone vendor by shipping 37 million iPhones in the quarter.
Still, Samsung Electronics nearly kept pace with Apple by shipping 36.5 million smartphones during the same period, and on an annual basis led the 2011 field with 97.4 million unit shipments and a 20 percent global market share, said Strategy Analytics Executive Director Neil Mawston.
"With global smartphone shipments nearing half a billion units in 2011, Samsung is now well positioned alongside Apple in a two-horse race at the forefront of one of the world's largest and most valuable consumer electronics markets," Mawston said.
Apple shipped 93 million iPhones during 2011, and other industry analysts believe the coming iPhone 5 will help Apple maintain its explosive unit growth rates this year.
"Apple and Samsung continue to run neck and neck in global smartphone shipments, setting up a tight battle for leadership that will continue throughout 2012," said IHS iSuppli Senior Analyst Wayne Lam.
Nokia Loses Handset Share
In the global handset market overall, Samsung grew market share by more than one percentage point year-over-year to 21.3 percent, Strategy Analytics said. By contrast, Nokia's longtime leadership declined from 30.9 percent in the fourth quarter of 2010 to 25.5 percent in the final three months of last year.
"Volumes were buoyed by the sales of Nokia's low-end dual-SIM models in emerging markets like Southeast Asia, but were a little soft overall, as initial shipments of Lumia phones could not offset declining Symbian sales," Mawston said.
Though Nokia said fourth-quarter shipments of its new Lumia smartphones, based on Microsoft's Windows Phone platform, exceeded 1 million units, that milestone was dwarfed by the numbers posted by Apple and Samsung.
"The 1 million mark is the important bit to not call [Lumia] a failure," said Gartner Research Vice President Carolina Milanesi. "Over 2 million would have been better," she said, "but we need to wait to see the full power when more countries are added.
Unit shipments of Nokia's new Lumia smartphones during the first quarter of 2012 will give a better sense of how the new product line is performing, Milanesi said. "Their average selling price is more aggressive than it would need to be if the brand was stronger at this point," she added.
Android's Market Share Slips
Though global handset shipments rose 11.4 percent overall to 1.54 billion units in 2011, it is important to note that smartphones accounted for 473 million unit shipments, said ABI Research Senior Analyst Michael Morgan.
"If smartphones are taken out of the equation, the remainder of the handset market showed a year-over-year shipment decline of 1.6 percent, signifying that market growth is entirely dependent on smartphones," Morgan said.
Due to the strength of Apple's iPhone sales, Android's market share declined for the first time since the platform's introduction. Google's mobile OS held a 47 percent share of the smartphone market in last year's fourth quarter -- down 5.5 percentage points from the prior period, ABI Research reported.
Moreover, the relatively small growth of Sony Ericsson and Motorola may indicate that the Android smartphone market is becoming too crowded as the various licensees compete for limited consumer mindshare and shelf space," Lam said.
Established Android handset vendors are being increasingly challenged by upstart China-based handset OEMs, which are rapidly consuming the market for low-cost Android devices.
"[This] pressures the rest of the Android ecosystem to innovate or die," ABI Research analysts said. "As Android approaches its fifth year as a platform, often considered middle-age in the mobile world, its midsection is sagging as Motorola, LG and Sony Ericsson struggle with profitability."