The worldwide mobile phone market grew 12.8% year on year in the third quarter of 2011, as smartphone growth declined in key mature markets. According to the analyst IDC’s Worldwide Mobile Phone Tracker, vendors shipped 393.7 million units in Q3 2011 compared with 348.9 million units in the third quarter of 2010.
However, the 12.8% growth was higher than IDC's forecast of 9.3% for the quarter and stronger than the 9.8% growth in Q2 2011.
IDC said that Q3 also showed the second-lowest growth rate for the overall mobile phone market over the past two years, a reflection of delayed smartphone purchases (such as the iPhone 4S and BlackBerry 7 series) and conservative consumer spending in the last quarter.
Economically mature regions, such as the United States and Western Europe, were hardest hit as shipment volume to both regions declined on a year over year basis.
Nokia reversed a global market share on a sequential basis last quarter thanks to stronger feature phone sales in key regions as well as the clearing of inventory backlogs in traditional strongholds, namely China and Europe, which led to a sharp year over year shipment and share decline last quarter. Nokia shipped 106.6 million units and took a 27.1% share – down on the 31.6% it held in Q3 2010, but up on the previous quarter of 2011, when its lead had slipped to 24.2%
Samsung registered double-digit growth compared with the third quarter a year ago and also outpaced the market. The company's growth was again driven by smartphone sales, such as the Galaxy S II. Smartphone sales were notably higher in emerging markets including China. Samsung outpaced the feature phone market as well in terms of growth.
The vendor didn't close the market share gap on Nokia for the top mobile phone position, but it remains within striking distance. Samsung shipped 87.8 million devices and took 22.3% of the market – up from 20.5% in Q3 2010 and up from 19.2% in Q2 2011.
LG Electronics maintained its position as the number three mobile vendor worldwide for the twelfth quarter in a row, but continued soft demand for both its feature phones and smartphones led to volume levels not seen since Q2 2007, according to IDC. With only a few new devices launched and an aging feature phone portfolio, LG's warnings of lower year over year shipment volume appears to have come to fruition.
By the end of the year, LG's grasp on the number three position may be loosened as Apple's aggressive smartphone campaign takes hold in Q4 2011. LG shipped 21.1 million devices, accounting for 5.4% of the worldwide market – down from 8.1% a year ago and down on the 6.8% share it had in Q2 2011.
ZTE jumped into the number four position thanks to momentum carried into Q3 2011 with key devices shipping into strategic regions. In China, ZTE has nearly doubled its smartphone volumes from the previous quarter, while within North America, ZTE's entry-level voice-centric phones at AT&T have gained greater depth.
At the same time, ZTE's target of 12 million smartphone shipments worldwide in 2011 became more of a reality with the introduction of two new Android-powered smartphones for the North American market. ZTE shipped 19.1 million units, while its market share stood at 4.9% - up from 3.5% in Q3 2010 and slightly up on Q2 2011’s 4.5%
Apple gained share and posted the third-highest growth rate of any top five vendor, but dropped to the number five position globally. Global iPhone shipments declined sequentially during the same quarter that company founder Steve Jobs handed the CEO reins to Tim Cook. The decline, not coincidentally, happened as Apple readied itself for the 4S launch, which many waited for.
Apple's ability to upgrade 3GS users to the 4S, for example, and make continued inroads into developing economies, where it has been less successful, will help dictate the company's smartphone fortunes in the future. It shipped 17.1 million units to take a 4.3% share worldwide. This was slightly up on Q3 2010’s 4%, but share slipped compared with Q2 2011, when it claimed a 5.6% share.