Samsung Steals Nokia's Mobile Crown

Samsung's first quarter results put it ahead of Nokia, but research firms disagree whether it regained the smartphone lead from Apple.
Samsung reported its first quarter earnings and the numbers look good. The company brought in revenues of $37.3 billion, with profits of $5.17 billion. That's up 98% from the year-ago quarter. The growth can largely be attributed to its mobile device unit, which saw $16.7 billion in revenue, an 86% increase from the year-ago period. Samsung didn't specifically detail how profitable the mobile device unit was by itself, nor did it say how many devices it actually sold.

To get those numbers, we have to turn to research firms. Both Strategy Analytics and IHS iSuppli suggest Samsung sold approximately 93 million cell phones. That includes both dumb phones and smartphones. Though both firms are fairly close in their estimates of overall sales, they disagree widely on the number of smartphones the Korean firm actually sold.

According to Strategy Analytics, Samsung shipped 44.5 million smartphones during the first quarter, which gives it back the lead it lost to Apple in December. But, that doesn't mean that Samsung actually sold all those devices to actual customers. They could be sitting in sales channels.

iSuppli, however, estimates that Samsung shipped 32 million. That's a big gap between the two estimates, and leaves the smartphone crown in the balance.

Apple, you see, sold 35 million iPhones in its most recent quarter. If we believe Strategy Analytics, then Samsung is the new smartphone king. If we believe iSuppli, then Apple is still the smartphone king. (But hey, what's a title anyway. I mean do these guys really need to have bragging rights?) All we can say with certainty regarding Samsung's smartphone sales is that the company sold at least 5 million of them. It announced as much earlier this year when it bragged about the successful Galaxy Note, which won over millions of users despite its tablet-like dimensions.

Whether or not Samsung wears the smartphone crown, it definitely owns the overall mobile device crown. Samsung's 93 million devices sold gives it 25.4% of the cell phone market, according to both Strategy Analytics and iSuppli. Nokia, on the other hand, sold 83 million handsets, down from 114 million in the previous quarter. That precipitous drop cost Nokia the leadership spot it has owned for 14 years. With 83 million units sold, Nokia's overall share of the global cell phone market is now 22.5%.

That's a major blow for Nokia, which has seen its fortunes evaporate into thin air over the course of the last two years as market disrupters Apple and Google have taken over. Nokia's share of the smartphone market is uncertain at this point, though it said it sold about 12 million devices in its most recent quarter (2 million Windows Phones, 10 million Symbian devices). That puts Nokia just ahead of RIM's 11 million in (estimated) first quarter sales.

Samsung's victory is a significant one, although not entirely surprising. With the Galaxy S III primed for release in the next month or so, and the iPhone 5 later this year, Samsung and Apple will continue to fight while all the other players reach for the scraps.

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