Smartphone market reborn in 4Q 2009

Fourth quarter mobile handset sales almost always outpace the performance seen in the rest of a year. But according to the latest market data from ABI Research, the final quarter of 2009 was remarkable for the strength of smartphone shipment growth compared to the rather lack-lustre preceding nine months.

“4Q 2009 saw 25% more smartphones shipped than 3Q,” said ABI Research analyst Michael Morgan. “Granted, the fourth quarter is usually better than the third, but 3Q saw only a 3.6% growth over the second quarter. The robust strength of this market’s recovery is very encouraging indeed.”

Individual vendors had plenty to be pleased about. Apple had its best smartphone quarter on record. Nokia did extremely well, shipping 21 million smartphones compared to its usual 15-16 million. BlackBerry had a strong showing as well.

The good performance was driven in part by falling smartphone prices and the introduction of entry-level smartphones generating greater appeal for new buyers. Nokia effectively used its best weapon, economies of scale. The iPhone maintained its ‘cool factor’ leverage, and, said Morgan, there were some under-reported over achievers such as the BlackBerry Curve, which has actually out sold the iPhone in some markets.

Both companies benefited from expansion beyond their traditional North American market, increasingly gaining traction in Western Europe and East Asia; Asia-Pacific iPhone sales increased about 500% year on year in 2009.

While all regions performed well, North America, helped by mobile operators’ subsidies, led the pack in smartphone market growth at 30%, with Western Europe and APAC following considerably behind. Africa, the Middle East and Latin America all showed growth in the mid-high 20 percents, although of course they were starting from very low baselines.

“The US is now the leading market for smartphone mindshare,” noted Morgan. “Vendors view success there as a springboard to success in the rest of the world.”

ABI Research’s Smartphone Quarterly Forecast and Features market data product quarterly and annual data including global and regional details for smartphone operating systems, ASPs, vendor market shares, revenues, air interface protocols and technology attach rates.