Manufacturer health check

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The market’s shift towards the universality of smartphones, and difficult software-led strategies, means the old ‘top-five’ manufacturer status quo is under threat.

Stalwarts Nokia, Motorola and Sony Ericsson have documented continuous and ominous decline this year. Smartphone makers Apple, Research in Motion (RIM) and HTC have meanwhile started to attack the consumer space, and to drive superior functionality into a market that has so far had little experience of it.

The big Korean electronics firms, Samsung and LG, have played to the masses and grown volumes and revenues in the face of recession. These two will increasingly show upwards mobility and produce classic smartphone devices through 2010.

Global handset sales are declining, whilst ‘smartphone’ volumes are spiralling upwards. Mobile phone sales decreased 9.4 per cent to 269.1 million units in Q1 2009, according to analyst Gartner – the “biggest quarter-on-quarter contraction” it had seen since it began monitoring activity in 2001. Sales slipped 6.1 per cent in Q2 to 286.1 million units.

At the same time, ‘smartphone’ sales jumped 12.7 per cent in Q1 (36.4 million units) and 27 per cent in Q2 (40 million units). Q3 totals are not in yet, with Samsung still to report, but the trend is clear and continuing.

Nokia, leader of the pack, experienced 27, 25 and 20 per cent drops in sales volumes in the first three quarters of the year, each compared with the year-ago quarters.

Its market share has increased marginally to 38 per cent at the same time. Results for Motorola and Sony Ericsson were worse, with the former dropping 44.5 per cent and 47.5 per cent in the first two quarters in terms of volume (Q3 pending), and the latter sliding quarterly by 34.4, 40.9 and 45 per cent, all compared with year-ago periods.

But, as a frame of reference, Apple surged 128, 509 and seven per cent in the year in terms of sales volumes, RIM jumped 67.8, 37.3 and 36.1 per cent in the year through Q3, and HTC spiralled 53.3 and 85.7 per cent in the first two quarters.

It shows both how the smartphone market is growing within a declining sector, and how the smartphone specialists are finding their wares in constant demand.

Full article in Mobile News issue 451 (November 2, 2009).

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