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Nokia, Samsung, and LG remain firmly entrenched atop the market share rankings, but innovation and the crucial smartphone segment will determine the rest of the pecking order in 2011, according to IDC.
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IDC has released mobile phone sales statistics for the fourth quarter of 2010 and the year as a whole. Year-over-year, the entire market grew by 17.9% in the fourth quarter to a stunning 401.4 million units globally. Sales for 2010 were up 18.5% from 1.17 billion to a yearly total of 1.39 million handsets. IDC attributes this growth to what it says were weak sales in 2009. The market contracted 1.6% in 2009 when compared to 2008.
"The mobile phone market has the wind behind its sails," said Kevin Restivo, senior research analyst with IDC's Worldwide Mobile Phone Tracker. "Mobile phone users are eager to swap out older devices for ones that handle data as well as voice, which is driving growth and replacement cycles."
The rankings for the top five vendors have changed once again, with ZTE and Apple shuffling around. In order, the top five for the year according to market share are Nokia (32.6%), Samsung (20.2%), LG (8.4%), ZTE (3.7%), and Apple (3.4%). Total 2010 sales in terms of units shipped were Nokia 453 million, Samsung 280.2 million, LG 116.7 million, ZTE 51.8 million, and Apple 47.5 million. The rest of the field contributed 439.4 million handsets during 2010.
IDC predicts the lower end of the scale to fluctuate during 2011. "Change-up among the number four and five vendors could be a regular occurrence this year," added Ramon Llamas, senior research analyst with IDC's Mobile Devices Technology and Trends team. "Motorola, Research In Motion, and Sony Ericsson, all vendors with a tight focus on the fast-growing smartphone market who had ranked among the top five worldwide vendors during 2010 are well within striking distance to move back into the top five list."
Nokia has held the number one spot for nearly a decade and will likely continue to do so for the foreseeable future. Its global scale and brand recognition are unmatched by its peers, though competitors such as Samsung have made serious gains. Nokia does have cause to worry, however. Its share in the vital smartphone space has dropped steadily since 2007 and the company has yet to prove that it can regain leadership in terms of innovation.
Looking forward, IDC believes smartphone growth is going to continue to push the industry along. It predicts that smartphone growth in 2011 will reach 43.7% as users graduate from feature phones to more capable smartphones. Handset vendors such as LG, with its inexpensive line of Optimus Android devices, and ZTE are making this happen.
In the U.S., sales of smartphones have been strong, with the iPhone and Android handsets from various makers leading the way. Some of the key handsets for 2011 -- the Motorola Atrix 4G and Droid Bionic, the LG Optimus Black and Optimus X, the HTC Shift 4G and Thunderbolt -- have already been announced. These all run Android and some of them introduce LTE 4G for the first time. Apple is expanding its reach by selling a version of the iPhone for Verizon Wireless and is expected to update the iPhone 4 in June. No doubt these handsets will appeal strongly to buyers.
Nokia, Samsung, and LG are so far ahead of the rest of the field in terms of total units shipped that we probably won't have to worry much about their rankings changing dramatically this year. What will be most interesting is to watch how the others scrap it out for market share. Who will innovate the most?