Worldwide mobile phone sales declined slightly last year for the first time since 2009, the result of difficult economic conditions, shifting consumer preferences and fierce competition.
Total mobile sales to end users fell 1.7% to 1.7 billion unit, as the growth in smartphone sales could not offset waning demand for feature phones, according to new data from Gartner.
The research firm predicts that overall sales will rebound somewhat this year, with smartphone sales growing 47% to nearly 1 billion and total mobile phone sales climbing 8.5% to 1.9 billion units.
Perhaps no company is better poised to capitalize on the demand for smartphones than Samsung. Last year, it became the top device manufacturer, both in the smartphone market and overall phone sales. In the fourth quarter of 2012, Samsung and Apple together claimed more than half (52%) of global smartphone sales.
Still, Gartner expects competition to intensify as several players -- including Microsoft, BlackBerry and Sony -- vie for the No. 3 spot in the smartphone market. “2013 will be the year of the rise of the third ecosystem as the battle between the new BlackBerry10 and Widows Phone intensifies,” said Anshul Gupta, a principal research analyst at Gartner.
Android and iOS all but owned the smartphone operating market in 2012, with nine in 10 devices running on one of the two systems. But Gupta also suggested the pressure on carriers and vendors from Android’s strong growth will lead platforms such as Firefox, Tizen and Ubuntu to carve out opportunities as profitable alternatives.
It will also be interesting to see whether Samsung’s Android-based Galaxy phones will gain more ground on the iPhone this year. The South Korean manufacturer was credited with gaining the edge on Apple in offering innovative handsets built with design flair. While iPhone sales rose nearly 23% in the fourth quarter to 43 million, Samsung’s sales jumped 85% to 64 million units.
Gartner pointed out that consumers favored the less expensive iPhone 4 and 4S models as opposed to the newer iPhone 5. The launch of the iPad Mini also created a dilemma for some users when deciding to upgrade to one of the iPhone models or buy the new tablet.
Toppled as the world’s No. 1 phone maker by Samsung, struggling Nokia showed signs of life in the fourth quarter with a good response to its low-end Asha smartphone and the rollout of its latest Lumia Windows 8 devices. Gartner said Nokia will have to build momentum around Asha this year by adding more models and apps for the line.