Worldwide sales of mobile phones to end users fell by 2 percent to 419.1 million units in the first quarter of 2012, according to Gartner, mainly due to a slowdown in sales to users in the Asia/Pacific region. However, smartphones sales boomed, growing by 44.7 percent to 144.4 million units. South Korea's Samsung became the largest supplier of both mobile phones and smartphones, as Android took more than half the market.
Anshul Gupta, principal research analyst at Gartner, said in a statement: "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."
Gartner adjusted its 2012 sales projection downwards "in the range of 20 million units" but expects the second half of the year to be stronger thanks to further 3G rollouts in China and new products (such as the iPhone 5) in mature markets.
Samsung became the world's leading mobile handset vendor during the quarter, thanks to Nokia's decline. Samsung's sales of 86.6 million phones was well below the 107.6 million that Nokia sold in the first quarter of 2011, but this year, Nokia managed only 83.2 million units.
After Samsung and Nokia came Apple (33.1m sales), China's ZTE (17.4m) and LG (14.7m).
Gartner said: "Samsung took back the world's No 1 smartphone position from Apple, selling 38 million smartphones worldwide. In addition, Samsung's Android-based smartphone sales in the first quarter of 2012 represented more than 40 percent of Android-based smartphone sales worldwide; no other vendors achieved more than a 10 per cent share of the market."
Android was by far the most popular smartphone operating system and now dominates sales. It had around a third of the market in the first quarter of 2011, and now has more than half the market (50.6 percent).
Apple's iOS also did well, as Apple doubled its sales of smartphones and grew its market share from 16.9 percent to 22.9 percent. Gartner added: "With more than 5 million units, China became the second-largest market for Apple after the US." (China also gets grey imports via Hong Kong.)
Most rival operating systems saw sales decline, with Symbian's market share collapsing from 27.7 to 8.6 percent, and RIM's share almost halving, from 13.0 percent to 6.9 percent.
Samsung's Bada bucked the trend by increasing its market share from 1.9 percent to 2.7 percent. Microsoft phones at least showed a fractional increase in unit sales, even though market share fell from 2.6 percent to 1.9 percent.
Gartner noted that the smartphone market "has become highly commoditised and differentiation is becoming a challenge for manufacturers." Gupta added:
"This is particularly true for smartphones based on the Android OS, where a strong commoditisation 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. However, 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."
Gartner's full report, Market Share: Mobile Devices, Worldwide, 1Q12, is available on its web site at http://www.gartner.com/resId=2015915.