Worldwide sales of mobile phones saw a 2 per cent decline from the first quarter of 2011 due to a slowdown in demand from the Asia/Pacific region, but the launch of the Apple iPhone 5 will help drive a stronger second half of the year in Western Europe and North America, according to Gartner. The report also notes that Apple's sales in China were "particularly strong" despite people holding of sales in the hope of an iPhone 5.
As a whole the market saw a decline, notes the Gartner report: "Worldwide sales of mobile phones to end users reached 419.1 million units in the first quarter of 2012, a 2 per cent decline from the first quarter of 2011".
RIM, Nokia, Motorola, LG, and HTC all saw their share of the market shrink when compared to the first quarter of 2011. "Global sales of mobile devices declined more than expected due to a slowdown in demand from the Asia/Pacific region," said Gartner analyst Anshul Gupta.
"The first quarter, traditionally the strongest quarter for Asia - which is driven by Chinese New Year, saw a lack of new product launches from leading manufacturers, and users delayed upgrades in the hope of better smartphone deals arriving later in the year," added Gupta.
In contrast, "driven by the continued success of the iPhone 4S, Apple's sales grew 96.2% in the first quarter of 2012 as the new model expanded into new markets and carriers. Sales in China were particularly strong this quarter. With more than 5 million units, China became the second-largest market for Apple after the US," notes the Gartner report.
The drop in sales was partly a result of the downturn in Asian markets. "We were not expecting a slowdown in Asia," Gartner analyst Anshul Gupta said in a statement. "China is usually a particularly big market in the first quarter, with the Chinese New Year normally leading to a sales boom. But this year consumers have held off upgrading, waiting for other high end devices, like the new Apple iPhone."
Gartner research indicates that Apple sold 33.1 million iPhones sold in the first quarter of 2012 (below what Apple claimed in its financial results last month). The sales place the smartphone maker in third place behind Samsung and Nokia, with 8% of all worldwide mobile phone sales. That is the total mobile phone market, including standard handsets as well as smartphones.
Samsung is in first place with 86,567.6 million units sold in the quarter for 20.7% share of the market. Samsung overtook Nokia for the first time that quarter. Nokia sold 83,162.5 million units worldwide for a 19.8% share of the market.
The report notes that Nokia's mobile handset sales reached 83.2 million units, a 22.7% decrease from the first quarter of 2011. Gupta blames this on Nokia's slow progress in the smartphone market: "Smartphone sales are becoming of paramount importance at a worldwide level. For example, smartphone volumes contributed to approximately 43.9% of overall sales for Samsung as opposed to 16% for Nokia."
Among smartphone operating systems, Apple's iOS saw a year-over-year increase from 16.9% share in the first quarter of 2011 to 22.9% share to kick off 2012. Apple and Samsung accounted for 49.3% of all smartphone sales worldwide. This is above the 29.3% the two collectively represented in the first quarter of 2011, notes the report.
Gartner notes that Android is beating the iPhone: "In the smartphone OS market, Android accounted for more than half of all smartphone sales (56.1%) in the first quarter of 2012."
However, Gartner analyst Gupta said the smartphone market has become highly commoditized and differentiation is becoming a challenge for manufacturers, particularly those using the Android OS. "This is particularly true for smartphones based on the Android OS, where a strong commoditization trend is at work and most players are finding it hard to break the mould. At the high end, hardware features coupled with applications and services are helping differentiation, but this is restricted to major players with intellectual property assets."
Gupta adds: "In the mid to low-end segment, price is increasingly becoming the sole differentiator. This will only worsen with the entry of new players and the dominance of Chinese manufacturers, leading to increased competition, low profitability and scattered market share."
RIM is a sorry tale. The Blackberry maker sold 9.9 million mobile handsets in the first quarter of 2012, with its global share declining to 2.4% as competition increased in its international market strongholds, according to the report. "RIM desperately needs to deliver winning BB10 products to retain users and stay competitive. This will be very challenging, because BB10 lacks strong developer support, and a new BB10 device will only be available in the fourth quarter of 2012," said Gupta.