Samsung holds smartphone lead in India, Apple trails

Indian vendors are, however, closing in on Samsung

Samsung Electronics led the Indian smartphone market with a 22 percent share last quarter, while global rival Apple didn't even make the top five in this price-sensitive market.

The South Korean company is, however, facing strong competition at the low end from Indian players like Micromax, which had an 18 percent share of the market in the fourth quarter of 2014, and also from brands like Xiaomi that sold exclusively online, according to IDC.

The rankings are the subject of some dispute, however. Earlier this month research firm Canalys said that Micromax had already overtaken Samsung, with a 22 percent share of the Indian smartphone market in the fourth quarter to Samsung's 20 percent share. Samsung contested the figures and said its share had been far higher at about 34 percent, citing data from another research firm, GfK.

Competition for Samsung is coming from the high end too. Apple gave "stiff competition" to Samsung in the fourth quarter, according to IDC.

The iPhone maker saw its share of smartphone shipments in the country grow more than two-fold in the fourth quarter, albeit from a very low base, said IDC analyst Karan Thakkar.

Apple is still a small player in the Indian market, with a market share smaller than the 4 percent cornered by Xiaomi, the fifth largest player in the market. Thakkar didn't disclose Apple's precise market share, which he described as being in the single digits.

But in the fourth quarter, the company saw strong demand for both its iPhone 6 and the larger iPhone 6 Plus, according to Thakkar. Consumers who wanted a larger screen Apple phone appear to have welcomed the company's new product, he said.

It may be difficult for Apple and other high-priced players to sustain high growth in India, which appears to be particularly price-sensitive, and is likely to get more so as operators continue to take mobile services to less-affluent users.

In the fourth quarter, 23 percent of smartphone shipments were of devices priced under US$100, while 41 percent were of devices priced between $100 and $200, according to Canalys.

In a bid to boost its share at the low end of the market, Samsung has introduced low-cost phones in the country, including a $92 Tizen smartphone in January.

John Ribeiro covers outsourcing and general technology breaking news from India for The IDG News Service. Follow John on Twitter at @Johnribeiro. John's e-mail address is john_ribeiro@idg.com

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