Android, Samsung Boost Smartphones to New Sales Heights

Worldwide mobile phone sales are continuing to take a hit in the sluggish economy even as smartphone figures rise, according to a Gartner report released Tuesday.

The mobile device industry sold 428 million units in the quarter, a 3 percent drop from the same time last year. Smartphone sales are up 47 percent to 169 million units, however, accounting for about 40 percent of the mobile device sales for the third quarter.

The mobile operating system race continues to be a battle between Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android. Sales of Android units more than doubled from the same quarter last year, with 122.5 million units shipped. The system grabbed a 72.4 percent share of the market for all mobile devices — not just smartphones — during the quarter, up from the 52.5 percent share it had at the same time last year.

Apple’s iOS came in second place among operating systems, selling 23.5 million devices in the quarter. Its market share dipped from 15 percent to 13.8 percent. RIM, Bada, Symbian and Microsoft rounded out the next spots.

Samsung continued to see a rise in mobile phone sales. The company sold nearly 98 million units in the third quarter of 2012, an 18.6 percent jump from the year before. Nokia came in second, grabbing a 19 percent marketshare, almost a reversal of their spots from a year ago. Nokia’s position in the smartphone category, however, slipped precipitously from No. 3 to No. 7.

Apple took the third spot in the overall device market, selling 23.6 million units to reach a 5.5 percent market share. ZTE and LG took the fourth and fifth positions in the rankings.

In smartphones, Samsung and Apple occupied the top positions, with Research In Motion moving to No. 3 and HTC a close fourth.

“Both HTC and RIM have seen their sales declining in past few quarters, and the challenges might prevent them from holding on to their current rankings in coming quarters,” said Anshul Gupta, principal research analyst at Gartner.

A Gartner spokesperson was not immediately available to provide further details.

Gearing Up for Holidays

Typically, the fourth quarter is when those dwindling mobile device sales numbers would get a much-needed boost, as shoppers stock up on gifts for the holiday season.

This year, however, the holiday boost might be modest compared to years past, Gartner predicted. Consumers worried about the struggling economy will be cautious spenders. Or, they might turn to other devices and buy, for instance, one tablet rather than smartphones for the whole family.

That doesn’t mean there couldn’t be a few dark horses that emerge during the holiday season, though, especially if Windows Phone 8 can capture some momentum as a worthy mobile operating system.

“Windows Phone 8 is the big wild card here,” Colin Gibbs, analyst at GigaOm Pro, told the E-Commerce Times. “Nokia once again is backing the platform with multiple new handsets, and HTC’s Windows 8X is getting positive reviews.”

The phone makers who are lower on the list have a real opportunity during the holiday season, Gibbs noted.

“The key for HTC and Nokia — and for Windows Phone in general — will be marketing those devices effectively,” he pointed out. “Windows Phone has failed to pick up much traction largely because of a lack of marketing, and it really needs a big push during the next several weeks. If it gets it, either or both of those two manufacturers should benefit in a big way.”

Android’s Rise to Top

Microsoft could take a lesson in mobile OS marketing from Android, said Ramon Llamas, senior research analyst with IDC, who noted that Google’s operating system has grown at a remarkable pace since debuting about four years ago. That’s not likely to slow any time soon.

“Android has been one of the primary growth engines of the smartphone market since it was launched in 2008,” Llamas told the E-Commerce Times. “In every year since then, Android has effectively outpaced the market and taken market share from the competition. In addition, the combination of smartphone vendors, mobile operators and end users who have embraced Android has driven shipment volumes higher. Even today, more vendors are introducing their first Android-powered smartphones to market.”

Much of Android’s success has been driven by Samsung, with its popular Galaxy series and other well-received smartphones designed with Android in mind. The two have each other to thank for their mutual rise in smartphone and mobile operating system sales rankings, said Gibbs, but that combined effort means the other major player will continue to reign.

“While Samsung is now king of the smartphone market, it doesn’t control its own ecosystem like Apple does because it doesn’t own a major mobile operating system,” he observed. “Samsung sells far more handsets than Apple, and Google’s Android claims a dominant share of the mobile OS market, but Apple remains the most powerful player in smartphones overall. And that won’t change soon.”

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