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It's a Mobile World: Smartphones Way Up, Symbian Doomed

By Erika Morphy
Feb 10, 2011 9:42 AM PT

Worldwide mobile device sales translated into 1.6 billion new units in the hands of consumers in 2010 -- an eye-popping 31.8 percent increase from 2009, according to new figures from Gartner.

It's a Mobile World: Smartphones Way Up, Symbian Doomed

The firm found also that smartphone sales were up 72.1 percent from 2009, accounting for 19 percent of total mobile device sales in 2010. Worldwide mobile phone sales reached 32.7 percent growth in the fourth quarter of 2010 with the number of units sold totaling 452 million.

The volume alone turned heads in the mobile community.

"We in the mobile industry get a little jaded," Azita Arvani of the Arvani Group told the E-Commerce Times, "but it is amazing to see that over 20 percent of the world's population bought a new mobile device in 2010."

Apple, RIM Move Up

Gartner's figures also provided more insight into which manufacturers are gaining ground and which need to tweak -- or remake -- their approach to market.

In the fourth quarter of 2010, Apple and Research In Motion moved up in Gartner's 2010 worldwide ranking of mobile device manufacturers to the No. 5 and No. 4 positions, respectively, knocking aside Sony Ericsson and Motorola. Nokia and LG also experienced some market erosion.

RIM's overall mobile phone sales in 2010 reached a total of 47.5 million units, an increase of 38.2 percent year-on-year. Despite growing volume sales, the BlackBerry maker saw its market share decline from 19.5 percent in the fourth quarter of 2009 to 13.7 percent in the fourth quarter of 2010. One possible play that may strengthen its position, Gartner suggested, is the release of its PlayBook media tablet, announced at the end of last year.

Apple sold 46.6 million units in 2010, an 87.2 percent growth rate from 2009. Apple now holds 16 percent of the smartphone market. This year it is expected to increase its market share through the new Verizon Wireless channel.

Android Now No. 2

In the smartphone operating system market, Android grew 888.8 percent to move into to the No. 2 position. The platform sold more units than Nokia's Symbian, but since the Symbian OS is also used by Fujitsu and Sharp, as well as legacy products from Sony Ericsson and Samsung, Symbian remained slightly ahead of Android in terms of market share, Gartner said.

Gartner did not respond to the E-Commerce Times' request for comment in time for publication.

A Sinking Ship

Despite its clinging to the top spot, Arvani dubs Symbian a "sinking ship."

"Samsung got that message early and executed on it aggressively last year," she pointed out, "so, they are in pretty good shape now. Sony Ericsson and LG hesitated a bit but finally jumped, so they managed to survive but paid a hefty price in market share."

Whither Nokia?

Then there is Nokia. In 2010, its annual mobile phone sales reached 461.3 million units, a 7.5 percent drop from 2009. Its share of the smartphone market dropped 6.7 percentage points from 2009. The company's future may hinge on the announcements it is expected to make Friday.

"Right now, they are carrying three different smartphone OSes, and it is not clear where they will take them," Patrick Gilbert, president and CEO of 4SmartPhone, told the E-Commerce Times. "I will be very interested to see what they say."

Other ongoing trends are not nearly as surprising -- namely, the progress of the ongoing race between Android and Apple.

Don't hold your breath for a clear winner, Gilbert said. "I think they will continue to edge each other out for the foreseeable future."

The one wild card, he suggested, will be how great a boost the addition of Verizon Wireless will give the iPhone.

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