Total Pageviews

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

In Smartphone Sales, the Big Get Bigger

TOKYO - The two biggest smartphone rivals, Samsung Electronics and Apple, can each find reasons to cheer about industry sales numbers reported this week.

Samsung recorded its highest share of smartphone shipments to date in the third quarter, when it accounted for 35 percent of the total worldwide, according to Strategy Analytics, a research firm. Samsung shipped 88.4 million smartphones in the three-month period, up from 56.9 million a year earlier, the firm said.

Apple showed more modest gains, with its global shipments growing to 33.8 million from 26.9 million a year earlier. Its market share fell, to 13.4 percent from 15.6 percent last year, while several Chinese brands made advances. Huawei pushed into third place worldwide, with 12.7 million smartphones shipped, up from 7.6 million in the third quarter of 2012.

But Apple regained momentum in the last days of the quarter, when it began selling its new iPhone 5S and iPhone 5C in a number of countries.

One of those was Japan. Apple experienced a remarkable surge in sales here, thanks in part to a new agreement with the biggest mobile phone operator, NTT Docomo, which began carrying iPhones for the first time.

A report from a different research firm, Counterpoint, showed that Apple increased its share of mobile phone sales in Japan to 34 percent in September from 14 percent in August, even though the phones were released only on Sept. 20. Apple has long been strong in Japan, but the September performance marked Apple's highest monthly share of the overall cellphone market, Counterpoint said.

“Apple mainly benefited from expanding its channels to Japan's No. 1 mobile operator, NTT Docomo, and thus instantly gaining access to a base of more than 60 million mobile subscribers,” Neil Shah, an analyst at Counterpoint, wrote in a statement.

The report showed that the Docomo deal has put additional pressure on Japanese smartphone makers, which were already struggling to compete at home and abroad. One of those, Fujitsu, saw its share of the Japanese handset market fall to 10.6 percent in September from 19 percent in August. Another, Sharp, also showed a big decline, to 13.6 percent from 17 percent.

Samsung, with about 6 percent of cellphone sales in Japan in September, has never been a big player in Japan. But the company's strategy of offering a range of handsets across a broad spectrum of prices appeared to be paying off elsewhere.

Strategy Analytics said the growth in Samsung's shipments in the third quarter was driven by strong sales of the new Galaxy Note 3, a premium-price “phablet” ­- a cross between a phone and a tablet - as well as the Galaxy Y, a low-priced handset that is popular in India and other developing markets. This offset the effect of sluggish sales of the company's flagship smartphone, the Galaxy S4.

Apple's global growth in smartphone shipments lagged the industry average in the third quarter, but Strategy Analytics said things were looking up for the American company.

“We expect Apple to rebound sharply and regain share in the upcoming fourth quarter of 2013 due to high demand for its new iPhone 5S model,” Neil Mawston, an analyst at Strategy Analytics, said in a statement.

Yet another report, from International Data Corporation, showed strong gains in smartphone shipments, posting a 39 percent gain in the third quarter from a year earlier and a 9 percent increase from the second quarter.

IDC cited the popularity of the Android mobile operating system, used by most Samsung smartphones and many others, as the driving force behind the strong growth. But the broad appeal of Android has also created challenges because many phones have come to resemble each other. As a result, a handful of companies, including Huawei, LG Electronics, Lenovo and ZTE, are scrambling for third place, behind Samsung and Apple, changing rankings from quarter to quarter.

“Beyond Samsung and Apple at the top of the rankings is a tight race of vendors trying to break out from the pack,” said Ramon Llamas, a researcher at IDC.