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The worldwide mobile phone market declined 1.5% year over year in the first quarter of 2012 to 398.4 million, but Samsung Electronics managed to oust longtime leader Nokia to become the world's top mobile phone vendor, according to the International Data Corp. Effectively, Samsung is now the world's largest supplier of both smartphones and all mobile phones.

According to the International Data Corp., vendors shipped 398.4 million mobile phone units in Q1 2012 compared to 404.3 million units in the first quarter of 2011. Meanwhile, the worldwide smartphone market grew 42.5% year over year in Q1 2012. Vendors shipped 144.9 million smartphones in Q1 2012 compared to 101.7 million units in Q1 2011. The 42.5% year-over-year growth was 1% higher than IDC's forecast of 41.5% for the quarter, and lower than the 57.4% growth in the fourth quarter of 2011.

Nokia: No More Good Days?

Nokia has been the global market leader in total mobile phone shipments since 1996. Samsung's ascension to the market's top spot is largely a reflection of its gains in the smartphone market over the past two years amid explosive growth of that market.

"The halcyon days of rapid growth in the smartphone market have been good to Samsung. Samsung has used its established relationships with carriers in a mix of economically diverse markets to gain share organically and at the expense of former high fliers such as Nokia," said Kevin Restivo, senior research analyst with IDC's worldwide mobile phone tracker program.

Apple vs. Samsung: As Titans Clash, The Rest Stand Still

During the quarter Samsung overtook Apple for the smartphone leadership position despite of the fact that Apple released iPhone 4S on several new markets, whereas Samsung did not have any breakthrough products apart from Galaxy Note.

"The race between Apple and Samsung remained tight during the quarter, even as both companies posted growth in key areas. Apple launched its popular iPhone 4S in additional key markets, most notably in China, and Samsung experienced continued success from its Galaxy Note smartphone/tablet and other Galaxy smartphones. With other companies in the midst of major strategic transitions, the contest between Apple and Samsung will bear close observation as hotly-anticipated new models are launched," said Ramon Llamas, senior research analyst with IDC's mobile phone technology and trends program.

Smartphone vendor highlights:

  • Samsung reclaimed the smartphone leadership position and established a new market record for the number of smartphones shipped in a single quarter. Propelling the company forward was continued expansion of its Galaxy portfolio in nearly all directions - new and old smartphones, product and market segmentation, and multiple price points, screen sizes, and processor speeds.
  • Apple slipped to second place in the worldwide smartphone market, but nonetheless posted strong year-over-year growth to reach 35.1 million units shipped. Apple's gains in the market benefited from iPhone availability at additional mobile operators worldwide, as well as sustained end-user demand among both consumers and enterprise users.
  • Nokia's Symbian phone shipments declined precipitously last quarter as demand dropped in key emerging markets, such as China. The company's current smartphone woes make a speedy transition to products powered by the Windows Phone operating system, upon which it has bet its smartphone future, critical.
  • Research In Motion's BlackBerry unit decline continued last quarter, reaching levels not seen since 2009. Like Nokia, RIM is a company in transition. Smartphones running on its new platform, BB 10, will be released later this year. Until then, results like these may be a sign of things to come.
  • HTC's struggles in the U.S. market once again negatively affected its overall performance. However, its relatively strong performance in Asia/Pacific still allowed the company to maintain its position among the top 5 smartphone vendors. The company is staking future success in large part on its One X and S products.

Tags: Apple, Samsung, Nokia, ZTE, HTC, RIM, Blackberry, LG Electronics, LG

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