Feature phone shipments reached 'historic' lows in western Europe in the fourth quarter, with the mobile phone market hit by the worsening economy and lower demand, new research has claimed.
A report by IDC into the health of the sector said the global market grew by 6.1% during the quarter, its lowest in two years. The researchers claimed vendors shipped 427.4 million units in Q4 last year, compared to 402.8 million units in the fourth quarter of 2010.
Nokia lead the way in terms of units shipped, with 113.5 million phones sent out during the quarter and a market share of 26.6%. It share was down 8.2% on 2010. IDC said Nokia has moved swiftly to change its retail experience, customer engagement and fix hardware bugs. It added: 'At the same time, the increased focus on the Lumia, combined with changing market conditions in key markets, has prompted Nokia to change its strategy on Symbian smartphones. Fewer Symbian devices will be sold in 2012. Still, Nokia's broad distribution around the world and manufacturing capabilities make it a serious contender to maintain its leadership position.'
Samsung was next with 97.6 million units shipped and a 22.8% share, up 20.9% on 2010. IDC said the sales were driven by the success of smartphone devices such as its Galaxy S II.
Apple had the greatest growth of share, up 128.4% to 8.7% and with 37 million units shipped. Researchers said the record breaking performance of the iPhones 4S lead the manufacturer to leap to third, its highest ever IDC ranking. Researchers cited partciularly strong sales in Japan and the US.
LG had its poorest quarter since Q2 in 2007, which IDC put down to an ageing feature phone portfolio and a lack of interest in its smartphones. The manufacturer posted the largest full year decline in market share in the study, down 24.5% to 5.7%. IDC said there were some bright spots for the manufacturer during the quarter, including a return to profitability and the reception for its Optimus LTE devices.
Only a few million units separated ZTE from LG, as it added smartphones to its largely entry-level portfolio. Market share was up 30.9% to 4.3%. The report said: 'Key models for the quarter included its popular mass-market Blade and mid-range Skate Android smartphones, and recently the company added its first Windows Phone-powered smartphone, the Tania.'
IDC senior research analyst Kevin Restivo said: 'The mobile phone market exhibited unusually low growth last quarter, which shows it is not immune to weaker macroeconomic conditions worldwide. The introduction of high-growth products such as the iPhone 4S, which shipped in the fourth quarter, bolstered smartphone growth. Yet overall market growth fell to its lowest point since Q3 2009 when the global economic recession was in full bloom.'
IDC senior research analyst Ramon Llamas said: 'Feature phones are fighting to maintain their market share. To meet the challenge, feature phones are becoming more like smartphones, incorporating mobile internet and third party applications. While this may not stem the smartphone tide, it should slow down the rate at which smartphones are selected over feature phones.'
The research follows a recent report from Strategy Analytics, which said global smartphone shipments grew 54% to hit an all-time high of 155 million units in Q4. Apple was the top smartphone vendor with a 23.9% market share, narrowly beating Samsung at 23.5%. However, Nokia's share slumped by more than half from 28.1% to 12.6%.