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10/29/2010
08:37 AM
Eric Zeman
Eric Zeman
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Apple Leapfrogs RIM Into The Top Five

According to IDC, Apple's most recent quarter vaulted it past Research In Motion, making Apple the world's fourth-largest maker of mobile phones. Nokia still holds the number one spot with an iron grip.

Apple has entered the vaunted "Top Five" phone makers list for the first time. Not only did it enter the top five, it landed in the fourth spot ahead of competitor RIM. In its most recent quarter, Apple sold 14.1 million iPhones. RIM sold 12.4 million.

Those numbers are far behind the leaders of the top five, however. Despite its struggles, Nokia dominated the market with 110.4 million handsets shipped in its most recent financial quarter. Samsung came in a solid number two with 71.4 million handsets sold. LG rounds out the top three with 28.4 million handsets sold.

Poor Sony Ericsson fell out of the Top Five rankings for the first time since the Tracker was devised in 2004. What's surprising is that Motorola hasn't re-entered the Top Five. It used to hold the number two position, but weak sales in 2007-2009 forced it out of the Top Five.

Perhaps one reason is that Motorola has, for the time being, given up on the entry-level handset. Instead, it has focused its efforts on mid-range and high-end Android smartphones. Those devices may have higher margins (which helped the company post a profit in its most recent quarter), but they don't move in the same numbers that the entry-level handsets do -- especially in emerging markets, where Nokia is making a killing.

"The entrance of Apple to the top 5 vendor ranking underscores the increased importance of smartphones to the overall market. Moreover, the mobile phone makers that are delivering popular smartphone models are among the fastest growing firms," said Kevin Restivo, senior research analyst with IDC's Worldwide Mobile Phone Tracker. "Vendors that aren't developing a strong portfolio of smartphones will be challenged to maintain and grow market share in the future."

This new Top Five ranking shows how smartphones have changed the momentum of the entire industry. Apple and RIM make nothing but smartphones. Nokia, Samsung and LG make a wide range of high-end and low-end devices. For two dedicated smartphone makers to hold onto spots in the Top Five clearly illustrates the rising popularity of smartphones.

It will be interesting to watch this momentum evolve over the next few quarters.

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