Fueled by higher smartphone sales, the worldwide mobile phone market grew 19.8%% in the first quarter of 2011, according to new data from technology research firm IDC. The number of mobile devices shipped increased to 372 million from 310.5 million in the year-earlier quarter.
Rising martphone adoption, especially in Asia/Pacific (excluding Japan), Middle East and Africa, and Latin America, helped drive the wider market to a new first-quarter record. The nearly 20% growth rate was also up slightly from the 18% rate in the fourth quarter of 2010.
IDC noted that manufacturers are making smartphones more affordable to a wider range of customers in emerging markets and elsewhere. That trend has helped handset makers, such as Micromax, TCL-Alcatel, Huawei, Research in Motion (RIM) and others outside the top five vendors, collectively outpace the broader mobile market, with a 46.4% growth rate.
The warning yesterday by RIM of weaker-than-expected BlackBerry sales in its fiscal first quarter ending in May, however, suggests the company is struggling with heightened competition from Apple and Android-based devices, among others.
While feature phones still represent the bulk of sales, they are losing ground to their high-end counterparts. "Even popular quick-messaging devices (phones with a QWERTY keyboard), once a bright spot within the feature phone market, appear to be losing steam as smartphones gain popularity," stated IDC mobile analyst Ramon Llamas. "Still, IDC does not expect feature phones to disappear quickly, as there is still strong demand across the globe."
Among leading device makers, Nokia remained the top brand with 29.2% market share, followed by Samsung (18.8%), LG Electronics (6.6%), Apple (5%) and ZTE (4.1%). Apple remained the No. 4 manufacturer, buoyed by the release of the Verizon iPhone and strong sales in North America and Western Europe. The iPhone is now offered by 186 carriers in 90 countries.
Separately, market research firm NPD Group said that Apple had become the No. 3 mobile phone maker in the U.S. in the third quarter, behind Samsung and LG, with 14% market share. The IDC report also found that smartphones accounted for the majority (54%) of mobile phone unit sales in the U.S. for the first time during the first quarter.