Apple's hot sales take it to top 5 handset makers

Analysis: With iPhone sales up 90%, RIM's BlackBerry has a challenge.

Despite an Android onslaught, "antenna-gate" and "glass-gate", Apple has managed to design its way into the top five handset makers for the first time, bouncing Sony Ericsson out of the game as the Cupertino firm enjoys growing mind-share.

This news is confirmed in a pair of reports from Strategy Analytics and IDC, with the former report crossing the wires at 10 p.m. Eastern Time on Thursday.

Strategy Analytics estimate 327 million handsets were shipped worldwide in Q3 2010, growing 13 per cent from a year earlier. Analyst Neil Mawston notes, "Apple was the star performer, as it jumped into the top five rankings for the first time."

Overall, industry growth came in at 13 per cent, compared with a rate of 16 per cent during the first six months of 2010. Component shortages and ongoing economic volatility slightly constrained volumes.

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While Apple outperformed the market -- and delivered a growth pattern to challenge that of Android, other key players didn't meet the match, specifically LG and Nokia.

Nokia's Slow Erosion

Make no doubt about it, Nokia remains the leading marque in mobile handset production, though its lead continues to erode.

Strategy Analytics tells us Nokia shipped 110.4 million handsets worldwide in Q3 2010, growing just two per cent annually. This was the ninth consecutive quarter that Nokia has grown volumes below the market average.

"We estimate Nokia's global share of legitimate handset shipments dipped to 34 per cent during the quarter, compared with 37 per cent a year earlier," the analysts said, noting an increase in more expensive smartphone sales on behalf of the company.

Samsung Grows, But at What Cost?

Number two place goes to Samsung, which shipped 71 million handsets globally in the third quarter, achieving 19 per cent growth. Global marketshare hit 22 per cent in the third quarter.

"Healthy demand" for Samsung's Android-based phones helped it boost its unit sales, the analyst said.

Suggesting a little of what I suspect, it is interesting to note that Samsung's unit sales may have cliombed 19 per cent, but revenues climbed just 12 per cent. Net profits climbed a more healthy 17 percent, but do these figures suggest some imbalance in the relationship between selling price and margins? If a price war breaks out in the smartphone sector, could players compete at lower margins?

Is LG the Next Sony Ericsson?

LG shipped 28.4M handsets worldwide in Q3 2010, shrinking 10 per cent from 31.6M units a year earlier. As reported yesterday, LG's handset division lost cash for the second consecutive quarter.

Strategy Analytics thinks this is due to a "limited presence in the high-growth smartphone segment." That's an affliction shared by Sony Ericsson, which lost its position in the top five handset vendors as a result.

They warn that LG must not also miss the tablet trend in 201, should such a trend emerge.

Apple's star turn

Apple comes in for glowing report. It sold 14.1 million handsets worldwide in Q3 2010 -- that's up a huge 91 per cent year-on-year.

"Apple jumped into the top five handset rankings for the first time. Apple was a star performer, as it surged past RIM and Sony Ericsson," the analysts said. "Apple's growth continues to come from expanding its retail presence across dozens of countries and operators worldwide. A next major wave of expansion is likely to come from a CDMA version of the iPhone at Verizon Wireless in the US, a move that could put considerable competitive pressure on Samsung, LG and Motorola in the first half of 2011," they added.

IDC's figures broadly match those from Strategy Analytics. These figures also slot Apple into fourth place, ahead of RIM, and confirm a 90.5 per cent increase in sales.

RIM's Challenging Job

RIM shipped 12.4 million handsets worldwide in Q3 2010, up 46 per cent annually. RIM's global handset marketshare has doubled from two per cent in Q3 2008 to four per cent in Q3 2010, as its distribution networks have internationalized beyond North America into Europe, Africa, Asia and South America.

RIM still needs to beef-up its relatively weak touchphone portfolio, the analysts note the BlackBerry Torch model has struggled to achieve this.

"We've now passed RIM. And I don't see them catching up with us in the foreseeable future," said Apple CEO Steve Jobs last week. "They must move beyond their area of strength and comfort, into the unfamiliar territory of trying to become a software platform company."

Strategy Analytics says it believes touchscreens, application processors and cameras are among the components that are becoming harder to source in quantity.

"Many component manufacturers reduced production output during the recession of 2009 and they are struggling, or even unwilling, to restore the capacity in the upturn of 2010," the analysts said. They predict 10 percent market growth in the current quarter.

"We expect the escalating smartphone wars to provide positive upside for handset volumes in the fourth quarter, but the volatile supply of certain components will mean some vendors may not be able to deliver their fully desired output of phones," they added.

This implies that manufacturers capable of making the largest component orders may well end up being most capable of bringing product to market, but also hints that supplies of all popular smartphones will be constrained in the coming year.

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Jonny Evans

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