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Monday, 30 January 2012 11:10

Apple snaps up top Q4 spot in mighty mobile market


Despite a fierce attack of Android clones, Apple's iPhone 4S and earlier models have propelled the crunchy kingdom to the top of the smartphone pile in Q4 2011, but it's a neck-and-neck race for supremacy between Apple and its major co-opetitor, Samsung.

Pocketable mobile computers were once but a dream, and then, were once but poorly powered and weak imitations of their desktop cousins due to obvious mobile hardware and power constraints.

However, if you fast forward to the second decade of the 21st century, things are wildly different, with powerful mobile computing smartphones in virtually everyone's pocket, and with many of those devices having been made by either Apple, or Samsung.

Naturally, Google must also be figured into the equation given that its operating system powers so many of Samsung's smartphones, and those of other Android OEMs, and what a situation it is, considering that 5 years ago, Microsoft and Nokia were major players in the market with their own operating systems, with any Android OS still but a glint in Google's gargantuan eye.

While Microsoft, Nokia, RIM and other Android smartphone makers can't be counted out, the big battle is currently between Apple, with its dominant range of iDevices, and Samsung, which makes the most popular Android-powered smartphones on the market.

Indeed, so popular are Samsung's devices that it is being rumoured to be postponing any pre-launch of its Galaxy S III smartphone at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, due to the fact that a pre-launch and an actual launch will likely be at least three or more months apart, which would do no favours to continued smooth sales of the current Galaxy S II model.

But the Galaxy S III and future iPhone 4G or iPhone 5 is yet to come, with the very recent past of more interest to market watchers wondering how major vendors are faring, and how they might fare in the future.

Thus, it is very interesting to see analyst firm 'Strategy Analytics' releasing a report looking at market movements in the last 2011 Q4 quarter.

Here we learn that 'global smartphone shipments grew 54 percent annually to reach a record 155 million units in the fourth quarter of 2011', while Apple did very well to reclaim the 'top position as the world's number one smartphone vendor during the quarter.'

Alex Spektor, whose name playfully sounds like it might be related to one of James Bond's many enemies, is the Associate Director at Strategy Analytics, noted the growth in smartphone shipments, and said that Apple's winning marketshare position means it had 24 percent of the market in Q4 2011, while its 'global smartphone shipments surged 128 percent annually to 37.0 million units, as distribution of the iPhone family expanded across numerous countries, dozens of operators and multiple price points.

But Samsung's growth and market moves can't be ignored, and while it has been beaten in Q4 2011 by Apple, Samsung achieved something quite grand, becoming the 'market leader in annual terms for the first time with 20 percent global share during 2011', according to Neil Mawston, Strategy Analytics' Executve Director.

Mr Mawston added that: 'Samsung is now well positioned alongside Apple in a two-horse race at the forefront of one of the world's largest and most valuable consumer electronics markets' - especially as global smartphone shipments neared 500m units in 2011.

Nokia didn't fare so well in 2011, which clearly makes 2012 a very important year for the Windows Phone 7.5-partner and licensee, and which should see some major marketing activity by Nokia and Microsoft this year.

Although Nokia was once the absolute top of the tree in the smartphone world, Stategy Analytics' Tom Kang noted that 2011 saw Nokia's 'global smartphone marketshare' halve from 2010's 33 percent down to only 16 percent last year.

Nokia's 'lacklustre smartphone portfolio' last year took the blame, as did Nokia's 'limited presence in the huge US market', which Nokia is trying very hard in 2012 to overcome through partnerships with T-Mobile and AT&T, and undoubtedly, renewed partnerships with all its global carrier partners as it seeks to make 2012 a year of Nokia resurgence.

Indeed, Mr Kang states that: 'Nokia's partnership with Microsoft will be very much in focus during 2012, and the industry will be watching closely to see how swiftly the two companies can expand in the high-value 4G LTE market that is rapidly emerging across the United States, Japan and elsewhere.'

So, Steve Jobs may no longer be with us, but his creations and his company is clearly thriving, with the next iPhone, the next Androids, the next BlackBerries and the next Windows Phones all set to fight the mightiest of battles in 2012, making those once timid, weak and meek pocket computers that which shall help us all become gadget-loving geeks that shall inherit the Earth.

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Alex Zaharov-Reutt

One of Australia’s best-known technology journalists and consumer tech experts, Alex has appeared in his capacity as technology expert on all of Australia’s free-to-air and pay TV networks on all the major news and current affairs programs, on commercial and public radio, and technology, lifestyle and reality TV shows. Visit Alex at Twitter here.

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