Gartner: Apple took top smartphone vendor crown in Q411 and for all 2011

Worldwide smartphone sales to end users soared to 149 million units in the fourth quarter of 2011, a 47.3 per cent increase from the fourth quarter of 2010, according to Gartner, Inc. Total smartphone sales in 2011 reached 472 million units and accounted for 31 percent of all mobile devices sales, up 58 percent from 2010.

Smartphone volumes during the quarter rose due to record sales of Apple iPhones. As a result, Apple became the third-largest mobile phone vendor in the world, overtaking LG. Apple also became the world’s top smartphone vendor, with a market share of 23.8 percent in the fourth quarter of 2011, and the top smartphone vendor for 2011 as a whole, with a 19 percent market share. “Western Europe and North America led most of the smartphone growth for Apple during the fourth quarter of 2011,” said Roberta Cozza, principal research analyst at Gartner. “In Western Europe the spike in iPhone sales in the fourth quarter saved the overall smartphone market after two consecutive quarters of slow sales.”

The quarter saw Samsung and Apple cement their positions further at the top of the market as their brands and new products clearly stood out. LG, Sony Ericsson, Motorola and Research In Motion (RIM) again recorded disappointing results as they struggled to improve volumes and profits significantly. These vendors were also exposed to a much stronger threat from the midrange and low end of the smartphone market as ZTE and Huawei continued to gain share during the quarter.

Worldwide mobile device sales to end users totaled 476.5 million units in the fourth quarter of 2011, a 5.4 percent increase from the same period in 2010. In 2011 as a whole, end users bought 1.8 billion units, an 11.1 percent increase from 2010. “Expectations for 2012 are for the overall market to grow by about 7 percent, while smartphone growth is expected to slow to around 39 percent,” said Annette Zimmermann, principal research analyst at Gartner.

In the fourth quarter of 2011, Nokia’s mobile phone sales numbered 111.7 million units, an 8.7 percent decrease from last year. “Samsung closed the gap with Nokia in overall market share,” said Ms. Cozza. “Samsung profited from strong smartphone sales of 34 million units in the fourth quarter of 2011. The troubled economic environment in Europe and Nokia’s weakened brand status posed challenges that were hard to overcome in just one quarter. However, Nokia proved its ability to execute and deliver on time with its new Lumia 710 and 800 handsets. Nokia will have to continue to offer aggressive prices to encourage communications service providers (CSPs) to add its products to portfolios currently dominated by Android-based devices.”

Worldwide Mobile Device Sales to End Users by Vendor in 4Q11 (Thousands of Units)
Gartner: Worldwide Mobile Device Sales to End Users by Vendor in 4Q11 (Thousands of Units)
Source: Gartner (February 2012)

Worldwide Mobile Device Sales to End Users by Vendor in 2011 (Thousands of Units)
Gartner: Worldwide Mobile Device Sales to End Users by Vendor in 2011 (Thousands of Units)
Source: Gartner (February 2012)

Apple had an exceptional fourth quarter, selling 35.5 million smartphones to end users, a 121.4 percent increase year on year. Apple’s continued attention to channel management helped it take full advantage of the strong quarter to further close the gap with Samsung, which saw some inventory build up for its smartphone range. Apple’s strong performance will continue into the first quarter of 2012 as availability of the iPhone 4S widens. However, since Apple will not benefit from delayed purchases as it did in the fourth quarter of 2011, Gartner analysts expect its sales to decline quarter-on-quarter.

After Apple, ZTE and Huawei were the fastest-growing vendors in the fourth quarter of 2011. “These vendors expanded their market reach and kept on improving the user experience of their Android devices,” said Ms. Cozza.

In the fourth quarter of 2011, ZTE moved into fourth place in the global handset market. ZTE posted a strong smartphone sales increase of 71 percent sequentially. The company was able to extend its portfolio to three CSPs in its home market and benefited from consumers’ interest in low-cost smartphones. Huawei moved ahead of LG in the Android marketplace to become a top-four Android manufacturer, thanks to strong smartphone growth in the quarter. Huawei has made significant progress in moving to its own-branded devices, and it has continued to expand its portfolio into higher tiers as its tries to build more iconic products.

RIM dropped to the No. 7 spot in the fourth quarter of 2011, with a 10.7 percent decline. RIM’s delay with its BlackBerry 10 platform will further impair its ability to retain users. However, RIM’s biggest challenge is still to expand the developer base around its ecosystem and convince developers to work and innovate with BlackBerry 10.

In the smartphone OS market, competition between Google and Apple intensified. Android’s share declined slightly sequentially. This was due to strong iPhone sales, driven in particular by the iPhone 4S in mature markets and the weakness of key Android vendors as they struggled to create unique and differentiated devices. Samsung remained the main contributor to Android share gains in the second half of 2011. iOS’s market share grew 8 percentage points year-on-year, but Gartner analysts expect Apple’s share to drop in the next couple of quarters as the upgrade cycle to the iPhone 4S slows. Nokia’s first Windows Phone smartphones, the Lumia 710 and 800, made their debut, but, as expected, sales were not enough to prevent a fall in Microsoft’s smartphone market share.

Worldwide Smartphone Sales to End Users by Operating System in 4Q11 (Thousands of Units)
Gartner: Worldwide Smartphone Sales to End Users by Operating System in 4Q11 (Thousands of Units)
Source: Gartner (February 2012)

Additional information is in the Gartner report “Market Share: Mobile Devices by Region and Country, 4Q11 and 2011.” The report is available on Gartner’s website at

Source: Gartner, Inc.


    1. Revenue market share is fine and all, but it is the unit share that is important for the future of the platform. Developers will often go for the device numbers, and currently, for every iPhone out there, there are two Android phones sold. Fortunately, for Apple, the picture isn’t as simple, and many more factors other than device numbers alone more than make up for that disparity. As we all know, iOS owners have more money and they spend more on apps (Android users want it all for free). Average Android device retail price is barely above $200, while average iPhone retails for over $600. Even with subsidies, the difference can still be felt by the consumer. Also, not to forget the monolithic iOS eco-system, compared to the legendary fragmentation of the Android platform.

      For now, Apple is perfectly safe, even with half the market share that Android may end up getting. However, any further extension of Android’s lead might jeopardise developers’ commitment to iOS first.

      Fortunately, Apple is keenly aware of this, and multi-pronged approach (aggressive innovation, plus vigorous defense of IP theft) will likely keep it on top for a long while.

      1. The problem is that lumping all Android into one pot is unfair. Tons of Android phones are low-end pieces of crap that can’t be upgraded or even run apps properly — they aren’t “true” Android. Thus from a developer’s view, Android’s numbers are severely inflated. Add in that Apple’s numbers omits iPod touch and iPad users and iOS is underrepresented here. The combination, especially when you consider that iOS users are far more willing to pay for apps and iOS has better development tools, mean that iOS is by far the best OS for developers and they know it.

      2. @Predrag: “Developers will often go for the device numbers, and currently, for every iPhone out there, there are two Android phones sold.”

        Misleading and irrelevant.

        Your argument appears to be related to PLATFORM share. The iOS platform (currently supporting iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad devices) has both larger market share and much larger installed base than Android.

        1. That is true. However, very many applications out there (more than half) are for phones (requiring some phone functionality), not iPods or tablets. Those developers are facing the choice of greater numbers (on a hopelessly fragmented platform, with freeloading customers) vs. fairly unified, polished platform with much more discretionary spending potential. The choice is still clear, and as long as Apple continues on the same course, it will stay that way.

  1. “and Nokia’s weakened brand status”

    Yes. That’s their problem.
    Weakened brand status.

    Their brand is the sum of consumers’ experiences with their (sad) products. Wouldn’t it be better to say it’s their “weakened product status” that’s the problem?

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