Global mobile phone sales take a hit; Nokia yields to Apple, Samsung

Smartphones continue to show growth despite a decline in mobile phone shipments year over year -- with Apple and Samsung widening their lead over Nokia.

Worldwide sales of mobile phones saw a nine percent decline year-over-year, to 379 million units, as demand slowed in emerging markets in the first quarter of 2012, according to a new report.

A recent study by market research firm Forward Concepts found that smartphones continue to be the engine behind the mobile sector: 139 million units were sold in the first quarter of 2012, representing 37 percent of the total global cellular phone market.

In terms of growth, that's an anemic 6.9 percent increase quarter over quarter, but a 44.4 percent gain year over year.

Within the smartphone category, both Apple and Samsung raised their combined share to 45.7 percent -- a year ago, it was 30 percent -- partially at the expense of Nokia, which now enjoys only an 8.6 percent share of the market.

Still, all vendors were impacted by the decline, Forward Concepts says, but how much depends on how diligent the OEM was managing its supply chain. According to the report, Chinese white-box vendors (Huawei, ZTE, TCL) suffered the most because their inventories were "bloated."

The report also covered tablets. In 1Q12, Apple's iPad saw a 59.3 percent share of what the company calls the "media tablet" market, which includes e-readers such as Amazon's Kindle and Barnes & Noble's Nook.

In return, shipments of Google Android-based tablets declined. Forward Concepts chalked the result up to the second-generation iPad's new, lower entry-level price of $399, $100 less than its successor.

More data points:

  • Global e-reader shipments dropped precipitously quarter-over-quarter, from 4.2 million units to just 1.4 million units, demonstrating how popular the devices are as a holiday gift.
  • In 2011, 1.51 billion cellular phones were shipped, a 6.5 percent increase over 2010. Forward Concepts predicts 11 percent growth in 2012 and 17 percent growth for the smartphone segment, to 502 million units.
  • Samsung passed Nokia in overall cellphone unit shipments in 1Q12; Apple took third place but led both in revenue.