Sales of mobile phones to end users declined in the first quarter for the first time in three years as a result of slowing demand in the Asia-Pacific region. Total worldwide sales reached 419.1 million units -- a 2% drop from the first quarter of 2011, according to the latest data from Gartner.
The research firm confirmed that Samsung became the world’s top manufacturer during the quarter, ending Nokia’s 14-year reign as No. 1. Samsung sold 86.5 million units in the quarter -- giving it 20.7% market share, up from 16% a year ago. Close behind was Nokia with 83.1 million in sales, equal to 19.8% share, but down from 25% in 2011. Apple, China-based ZTE and LG rounded out the top five handset makers overall.
At the same time, Samsung regained the No. 1 spot as the leading smartphone maker from Apple, selling 38 million. Its first-quarter sales represented more than 40% of Android-based smartphone sales worldwide, while no other competitor had more than 10%.
iPhone sales reached 33.1 million units -- nearly double the total of a year ago, on the continued strength of the iPhone 4S. With more than 5 million iPhones sold in China in the quarter, it became the second-largest market for Apple after the U.S. Nokia, by contrast, continued to struggle in the crucial smartphone market despite its rollout of Windows Phone-powered devices since last year.
BlackBerry-maker Research in Motion sold nearly 10 million mobile handsets in the first quarter, with its global share falling to 2.4% as competition increased in its international market strongholds. The embattled phone maker is pinning its comeback hopes on a BlackBerry 10 device to be introduced in the fourth quarter of 2012.
“Smartphone sales are becoming of paramount importance at a worldwide level. For example, smartphone volumes contributed to approximately 43.9% of overall sales for Samsung, as opposed to 16% for Nokia,” said Anshul Gupta, principal research analyst at Gartner.
Smartphone sales overall maintained torrid growth, rising 44.7% from a year ago to 144.4 million units in the quarter. Samsung and Apple together control about half the market, with Nokia’s share slipping to 9.2%.
Looking at smartphone sales by operating system, Android accounted for more than half (56%) of sales, with Apple’s iOS representing 23%. Gartner said the smartphone market is becoming increasingly commoditized, with manufacturers finding it more difficult to differentiate their products. This is especially true for Android, “where a strong commoditization trend is at work and most players are finding it hard to break the mold,” said Gupta.