Global smart phone shipments rise

Despite the gloomy economic picture and the problems being experienced by some of the leading mobile handset vendors, global shipments of smart phones hit a new peak of just under 40 million units in Q3 2008, according to the latest estimates from leading analyst firm Canalys. This means smart phones now represent around 13% of the total mobile phone market, up from 11% last quarter.

The introduction of the iPhone 3G in July and Apples expansion into many more countries helped propel the vendor to second place globally, taking it above RIM in the quarter and resulting in higher shipments than for all the Microsoft-based smart phones combined.

Worldwide smart phone market shares for Q3 2008 are led by Nokia with 15,485,690 shipments, or 38.9% of the market. However, Nokia’s figures are down 3.4% from the same period last year, when it made 16,025,690 shipments which at that time gave it 51.4% of the market overall. Following Nokia in Q3 2008 is Apple, with 6,899,010 shipments (17.3% market share), up from 1,107,460 shipments in the same period last year (3.6% market share), giving the newcomer a staggering 523.0% rise in share.

RIM is in third place with 6,051,730 shipments (15.2% market share), up 83.5% from the same period in 2007, and Motorola is fourth with 5.8% market share, up 12.4% year on year. HTC is in fifth position, tying with Motorola on 5.8% market share in Q3 2008, but up 171.4% year on year, from 850,400 shipments in Q3 2007. Other manufacturers hold 17% of the market between them, down from 25.1% in the same period in 2007.

Pete Cunningham, Canalys senior analyst, commented: “It was expected that Apple would figure among the smart phone leaders this quarter, and with that huge initial new product shipment, it was just a question of how high up it would be. This is impressive.”He added that despite RIM being nudged into third place, its growth of over 80% should not be overlooked.

He said of RIM: “This is also a tremendous performance, especially considering the delays it experienced in rolling out the Blackberry Bold. Some customers will also have been waiting for the Storm to arrive. With these new products and the clamshell Pearl 8220 available in Q4, it is quite feasible that RIM will return to the number two position.”

The success of Apple and RIM, as well as fifth-placed HTC with its Windows Mobile devices, has eaten into Nokia’s share of the smart phone market, a market it has led consistently for several years, said Cunningham. Nokia’s broad portfolio of models, and the wider audience it attracts, does leave it more exposed to the trends affecting the overall handset market, he added.

Canalys analyst Tim Shepherd said: “Year on year [Nokia’s] smart phone shipments fell in Q3 for the first time. Nokia is also transitioning from some very successful volume drivers, like the N95 and E65, to a number of successors, such as the flagship N96, and shipments of these new models have not yet ramped up. And Nokia has taken time to bring a touch screen product to market in the wake of the iPhone’s success, despite having had the experience of producing the Series 90-based 7710 four years ago. Conversely, vendors such as HTC with its Touch Diamond have capitalised on customer demand for this type of product.”

Motorola, currently holding onto fourth place in smart phones thanks largely to its Linux-based models, recently announced it would move away from using the Symbian OS and focus more on Android. With T-Mobiles G1 now shipping in the US and the UK, Android will appear in the Q4 smart phone numbers, but more vendors and a wider range of device designs will be needed to achieve significant global shipment levels. While they will appeal to some, particularly professional users, research suggests that devices with large, slide-out keyboards just do not resonate as well in the consumer market as pure touch screen designs, Shepherd added.

Despite being overtaken by Apple globally in Q3, Microsoft has increased its share of the smart phone market year on year, helped by the volumes being achieved by vendors like HTC and Samsung in particular. With Android about to be thrown into the mix, Canalys expects that 2009 will see Symbian remain on top, but that it will be fairly closely fought between the other major smart phone operating systems, presenting operators and application developers with some challenges around where they deploy their resources.

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