Samsung Cements Phone Dominance

Smartphone-Galaxy-S-III-APowered by its Galaxy line of devices, Samsung set a record for smartphone shipments in a single quarter -- 63 million -- in the fourth quarter. That gave the South Korean manufacturer a 29% share of the global smartphone market -- up from 22.5% a year ago, according to new data from research firm IDC.

Apple shipped 47.8 million iPhones in the quarter for a 21.8% share, down from 23% a year ago. Rounding out the top five smartphone vendors were Huawei (4.9%), Sony (4.5%) and ZTE (4.3%). The smartphone market overall grew 36.4% in the fourth quarter, with smartphones accounting for 45.5% of all handset sells -- the highest percentage ever.

Samsung remains comfortably atop the overall mobile phone market, which grew just 1.9% in the fourth quarter to 482 million devices shipped. Samsung claimed 23% share in the quarter, followed by Nokia (17.9%) and Apple (9.9%), with China-based manufacturers ZTE and Hauwei taking 3.6% and 3.3% share, respectively.

For the full year, Samsung in 2012 controlled 30% of the smartphone market -- up from 19% in 2011 -- and 23% of the total phone market, up from 19%. The South Korean tech giant separately on Friday reported that it earned a record $6.6 billion profit in the fourth quarter, up 76% from a year ago, while revenue rose 18%.

While Samsung and Apple dominate the smartphone business, IDC analysts said the market still offers opportunities for new challengers like Huawei, which overtook LG in as a top-five vendor in the overall mobile phone market, and HTC in smartphones.

At the same time, consumer tech and entertainment powerhouse Sony showed signs of a resurgence in the smartphone arena with its release of the well-received Xperia TL in the fourth quarter and two more Xperia handsets coming in the current one. Sony’s smartphone share in the fourth quarter reached 4.5%, compared to 3.9% a year ago.

With the demand for smartphones slowing in developed markets, China is where the battle for new customers could increasingly play out. While Apple has lost ground to Samsung in the last year, IDC noted that iPhone shipments to China doubled in the fourth quarter. If Apple introduces a cheaper iPhone this year, as rumored, that would only intensify competition in emerging markets like China and India. 

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