Mobile phone market makes a comeback

Demand for smartphones plus the very slowly fading recession has helped the mobile phone market grow this year.

According to the International Data Corporation (IDC) Worldwide Mobile Phone Tracker, the market grew by 21.7 percent in the first quarter of 2010 –  a strong increase from the first quarter of 2009 and the company has said this is expected to grow by a further 11 percent this year.

Vendors shipped 294.9 million units in the first quarter of 2010 compared to 242.4 million units in the first quarter of 2009.

IDC said smartphones had a big part to play as more and more people take these up and drive demand in order to access the net, send emails and visit social networking sites on the go.

These phones and a recovering traditional mobile phone category helped the market avoid a repeat of 1Q09, when the market declined 16.6 percent in the midst of the global economic recession.

Kevin Restivo, senior research analyst with IDC’s Worldwide Mobile Phone Tracker, said: “The entrance of RIM into the top five underscores the sustained smartphone growth trend that is driving the global mobile phone market recovery.

“This is also the first time a vendor has dropped out of the top five since the second quarter of 2005, when Sony Ericsson grabbed the number five spot from BenQ Siemens.”

Ramon Llamas, senior research analyst at IDC’s Mobile Devices Technology and Trends team, added: “That the mobile phone market has rebounded by double digits year over year in a post-holiday quarter is definitely good news for the industry. 

“Whereas last year we saw much uncertainty around demand and overall reluctance to introduce new devices, vendors have been very vocal about their intentions this year, with some even launching new devices in the first quarter of 2010. In addition, the continued emphasis on converged mobile devices points to greater revenue generation and profitability opportunities for vendors, which is a welcome change compared to the same quarter a year ago.”

The report also broke down the different global regions to show where there was the most growth and also the failures. It found that the Asia/Pacific (excluding Japan) region started the year off with a strong quarter driven mainly by Greater China. This is because this region is making low-cost smartphones as well as the currently popular Touchscreen devices.

Western Europe also succeeded in growing this quarter once again thanks to smartphones. However, the US didn’t fare as well, with its markets declining. It was saved by the skin of its teeth thanks to Google’s Nexus One and new devices from Motorola. In Canada, the first quarter was similar to that of the US as significant Android phones, namely the Motorola Milestone and Samsung’s Galaxy Spica, were introduced. There was also a continued emphasis by suppliers on quick messaging devices in the traditional mobile phone category.

And it also seems manufacturers are benefiting from their smartphone ranges. 

Research In Motion (RIM) moved into the top five vendor rankings for the first time after selling 10.6 million smartphones. The key to its success was the popularity of its BlackBerry Curve 8520 and BlackBerry Bold 9700 as well as its global prepaid offerings. It replaced Motorola and tied with Sony Ericsson for the 4th position in IDC’s 1Q10 vendor rankings. 

Other successful vendors include Nokia, which started the year with a strong first-quarter unit shipment performance, driven by its top-selling 5130 and 2700 models. Shipments of 107.8 million in 1Q10 represented a nearly 16% improvement over the same quarter last year. The overall figures, however, fell short of the first-quarter high it set in 2008. Nokia plans to ship the N8 (the first converged device to run the Symbian 3 operating system) in the third quarter. The N8 will cost €370, according to Nokia, and is expected to boost Nokia’s overall position.

Samsung clung tightly onto the number two vendor worldwide for the twelfth consecutive quarter with total shipment volumes greater than  its third, fourth and fifth competitors combined. This was thanks to a combination of new devices, such as touchscreen phones launched and the expansion of distribution channels within emerging markets.

LG Electronics remained the number three vendor worldwide with year-over-year shipment growth of nearly 20 percent. The report also hinted at LG plans to introduce several Android, Windows Mobile 6.5, and Windows Phone 7 devices later this year. 

Sony Ericsson returned to profitability in the first quarter due to cost cutting and new product introductions. The joint venture launched six new handsets including three new Greenheart models – Aspen, Elm, and Hazel – as well as the Xperia X10 and Vivaz converged devices.

Top Five Mobile Phone Vendors, Shipments, and Market Share, Q1 2010 (Units in Millions)

Vendor   1Q10 Unit
  1Q10 Market
  1Q09 Unit
  1Q09 Market
year Change
1. Nokia 107.8 36.6% 93.2 38.4% 15.7%
2. Samsung 64.3 21.8% 45.9 18.9% 40.1%
3. LG Electronics 27.1 9.2% 22.6 9.3% 19.9%
4. Research In Motion 10.6 3.6% 7.3 3.0% 45.2%
4. Sony Ericsson 10.5 3.6% 14.5 6.0% -27.6%
Others 74.6 25.3% 58.9 24.3% 26.7%
Total 294.9 100.0% 242.4 100.0% 21.7%