Driven by smartphone sales, the worldwide mobile phone market grew 17.9 percent in the fourth quarter of 2010 (4Q10), a quarter which saw ZTE, a China-based company that sells primarily lower-cost feature phones in emerging markets, move into the number 4 position worldwide.
According to the IDC worldwide quarterly mobile phone tracker, vendors shipped 401.4 million units in 4Q10 compared to 340.5 million units in the fourth quarter of 2009. Vendors shipped a total of 1.39 billion units on a cumulative worldwide basis in 2010, up 18.5 percent from the 1.17 billion units shipped in 2009.
The strong quarterly and annual growth comes after a weak 2009, which saw the market decline by 1.6 percent. A stronger economy and a wider array of increasingly affordable smartphones helped lift the market to its highest annual growth rate since 2006 when it grew 22.6 percent.
â€œThe mobile phone market has the wind behind its sails,â€ said Kevin Restivo, senior research analyst with IDCâ€™s worldwide quarterly mobile phone tracker. â€œMobile phone users are eager to swap out older devices for ones that handle data as well as voice, which is driving growth and replacement cycles.â€
Itâ€™s not just smartphone-focused suppliers that capitalized on the mobile phone marketâ€™s renewed growth last year. It is also the first quarter that Chinese handset maker ZTE finished among IDCâ€™s Top 5 vendors.
â€œChange-up among the number four and five vendors could be a regular occurrence this year,â€ added Ramon Llamas, senior research analyst with IDCâ€™s mobile devices technology and trends team.
â€œMotorola, Research In Motion, and Sony Ericsson, all vendors with a tight focus on the fast-growing smartphone market and who had ranked among the top five worldwide vendors during 2010, are well within striking distance to move back into the top five list.â€
IDC said the worldwide mobile phone market will be driven largely by smartphone growth through the end of 2014. â€œFeature phone users looking to do more with their devices will flock to smartphones in the years ahead,â€ noted Restivo. â€œThis trend will help to drive the smartphone sub-market to grow 43.7 percent year over year in 2011.â€
The Asia Pacific mobile phone landscape was driven by low-cost and high-end devices in 4Q10. Domestic brands in India like G-Five, Micromax, and Karbonn grew with aggressive advertising and branding activities for entry-level phones, while ZTE and Huawei worked closely with carriers to push low-cost Android smartphones in China.
High-end smartphones, however, were equally well-received, resulting in higher shipments from Apple, Samsung, and HTC in 4Q10.
Top 5 mobile phone vendors
Nokia overall unit volume slipped 2.4 percent in the fourth quarter, which the vendor attributed to the â€œintense competitiveâ€ environment and component shortages. The result was lower feature phone shipments.
The company did, however, grow smartphone volume by 38 percent compared to the same prior-year quarter. Nokia launched the C7 and the C6-01 touchscreen smartphones as well as the C3 combination touchscreen & QWERTY device in the fourth quarter. Still, smartphone ASPs dropped 16 percent on a year-over-year basis.
Samsung reached a new milestone in 4Q10, pushing through the 80 million unit threshold for the first time in the companyâ€™s history and improving its profit margins for the second straight quarter.
Driving shipment volumes was the continued success of its Galaxy S smartphones, of which the company sold nearly ten million units worldwide for the year. Similarly, Samsungâ€™s mass-market and touch-screen phones earned a strong following in emerging markets.
LG Electronics crossed the 30 million unit mark for the quarter, due in part to the success of Optimus One smartphone sales across multiple regions. LGâ€™s smartphone strategy is paying off; the company sold more than a million units in the first month of availability, and newer versions (Optimus 2X, Optimus Black) are expected later this year.
Meanwhile, LGâ€™s feature phones comprised the majority of shipments, but an aging portfolio and lower prices within emerging markets left the company vulnerable to the competition.
ZTE finished the quarter in the number 4 position with shipments steadily spreading from its home country of China to developing regions such as Africa and Latin America. ZTE has also recently made inroads in developed markets such as Western Europe and the US as well as Japan.
While most of its shipments have historically concentrated on entry-level and mid-range devices, some of its recent success is directly attributable to its rapidly expanding smartphone line, such as the Android-based Blade and Racer devices. Meanwhile, its S- and C-series entry-level feature phones provided additional competition within emerging markets.
Apple, the iPhone maker, slipped to the number 5 position despite a record quarter for unit shipments and the departure soon thereafter of CEO Steve Jobs on medical leave. It was the companyâ€™s second straight quarter on IDCâ€™s Top 5 list.
The iPhone sold particularly well in developed regions of the world, such as North America and Western Europe. Apple, which said it could have sold more iPhones last quarter had it been able to make more, is set to introduce the touchscreen device on Verizon next month.