Worldwide mobile communication device sales to end users totaled 427.8 million units in the first quarter of 2011, an increase of 19 percent from the first quarter of 2010, according to research firm Gartner.
“Smartphones accounted for 23.6 percent of overall sales in the first quarter of 2011, an increase of 85 percent year-on-year,” said Roberta Cozza, principal research analyst at Gartner, in a statement. “This share could have been even higher, but manufacturers announced a number of high-profile devices during the first quarter of 2011 that would not ship until the second quarter of 2011. We believe some consumers delayed their purchases to wait for these models.”
The ripple effect from the Japan earthquake and tsunami will continue, Gartner said, although the company projects it will have a smaller effect on the mobile communication devices market than initially anticipated. About six to seven weeks’ worth of inventory of finished products is in the channel and about four weeks’ worth of inventory for components. Gartner estimates that manufacturers’ sales into the channel will drop in the second quarter of 2011, while sales through to consumers will be flat.
The usual suspects filled out the top spots in both handsets and platform share, with Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android platforms enjoying strong growth, while Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 (WP7) saw just 1.6 million handsets shipped based on that operating system. On the device side, Samsung, Apple and HTC continued to sell well.
Nokia continued its position as the leading device manufacturer. The Finnish OEM sold 107.6 million mobile devices in the first quarter of 2011, but the company’s market share plummeted by 5.5 percentage points year-on-year. That’s Nokia’s lowest share since 1997.
Gartner suggests Nokia will aggressively lower average selling prices (ASPs) in markets where carriers control the sales channels in order to maintain shipments of Symbian devices while waiting for its first Windows Phone 7 devices to reach the market.
Samsung experienced its strongest first quarter ever on the back of high-end smartphone sales like its Galaxy S line that boosted the company’s ASP. Samsung shipped 68.7 million units in the first quarter, capturing an 18 percent market share. That’s a 2 percent increase year over year.
Apple sold 16.9 million units to end users worldwide, more than doubling its sales of iPhones compared to last year.
“This strong performance helped Apple consolidate its position as the fourth largest brand in the mobile communication market overall,” wrote Carolina Milanesi, research vice president at Gartner. “Considering the higher than average price of the iPhone, this is a remarkable result and highlights the impact that a strong aspirational brand can have on a product.”
HTC recorded a very strong first quarter with 9.3 million mobile communication devices sold and moved to the No. 7 position. Strong high-end products helped HTC perform well with all major carriers in the U.S., and in the first quarter of 2011, it became the No. 2 smartphone manufacturer in the region, overtaking Research In Motion (RIM).
Gartner praised RIM’s announced transition to the QNX platform in 2012, which the firm said “should make its smartphones more competitive in graphics, performance and touch, and unify RIM’s tablet and smartphone user experience.”
Milanesi concludes this quarter’s numbers with a cautionary note, suggesting that a 13.3 million-unit growth in channel inventory, along with some softness in demand from users in emerging markets, could inhibit sales for the rest of the year.
“We are currently revising down our 2011 sales estimate as a result of these trends, and expect it will likely drop to between 1.790 billion and 1.795 billion units,” Milanesi wrote.