Worldwide mobile device sales hit 1.6 billion in 2010

Android hit record sales in the fourth quarter of 2010, moving up to second position for the year in the operating system ranking from research firm, Gartner.

Worldwide mobile device sales to end users totalled 1.6 billion units in 2010, a 31.8% increase from 2009, according to Gartner. Smartphone sales to end users were up 72.1% from 2009 and accounted for 19% of total mobile communications device sales in 2010.

“Strong smartphone sales in the fourth quarter of 2010 pushed Apple and Research In Motion (RIM) up in our 2010 worldwide ranking of mobile device manufacturers to the No. 5 and No. 4 positions, respectively, displacing Sony Ericsson and Motorola,” said Carolina Milanesi, research vice president at Gartner. “Nokia and LG saw their marketshare erode in 2010 as they came under increasing pressure to refine their smartphone strategies.”

Overall, the mobile device market showed less seasonality than in previous years in mature markets, such as Western Europe and North America, said Milanesi. Worldwide mobile phone sales to end users reached 32.7% growth in the fourth quarter of 2010 as mobile phone sales to end users totalled 452 million units.

Shortages continued to affect popular components, such as camera modules, touchscreen controllers, and active-matrix organic light-emitting diode (AMOLED) screens, in the fourth quarter of 2010. “This situation will not ease until at least the second half of 2011. Shortages will be a long term consideration for mobile device vendors, because other fast growing categories of connected consumer devices, such as media tablets, are competing for the same components,” said Milanesi.

White box sales exceeded 115 million units in the fourth quarter of 2010 and 360 million units in 2010 overall. However, Milanesi warned that although white box sales helped boost mobile device sales to 1.6 billion units in 2010, it would be misleading to interpret this as market growth in the strictest sense. “What we see is an increase in addressable market for mobile device manufacturers as consumers shift their behaviour to buying new phones from legitimate channels over second-hand and black market devices,” said Milanesi.

Apple sold 46.6 million units in 2010, 87.2% growth from 2009. This growth is largely due to expansion into new countries and the ending of exclusivity deals, which has made the iPhone available through 185 communication service providers (CSPs) around the world.

The end of exclusivity deals also encouraged CSP competition on tariffs and data plans, making the total cost of iPhone ownership more in line with other high end smartphones. For 2011, Apple’s main growth opportunity will come from adding Verizon Wireless to its list of CSPs in the US. Gartner analysts said Apple will maintain a stable average selling price, which favourably impacts margins at the expense of market share opportunity. However, Apple is not targeting the mass market, which is a fundamental difference in approach from Android.

The smartphone market remains concentrated in advanced markets, where buyers have more disposable income and where networks are fast enough to support smartphones’ full feature sets. “Western Europe and North America accounted for 52.3% of global smartphone sales in the fourth quarter of 2010, with smartphones accounting for close to half of all handsets sold in these regions,” said Roberta Cozza, principal research analyst at Gartner. Intense competition affected shares at the top of the smartphone market in the fourth quarter of 2010, continuing trends that we have seen throughout 2010.

In 2010, Nokia’s annual mobile phone sales to end users reached 461.3 million units, a 7.5% drop in market share from 2009. The year-on-year decline is not solely attributable to Nokia’s continuing deficiency in high end devices but is, in part, the result of the growth of legitimate white box sales. Nokia’s share of the smartphone market dropped 6.7 percentage points from 2009. Nokia’s future rests on the announcements it will make on 11 February and how well the company can execute on those plans in the limited time available.

RIM’s overall mobile phone sales to end users in 2010 reached a total of 47.5 million units, an increase of 38.2% year on year. Performance in the fourth quarter of 2010 was particularly strong in Southeast Asia (Indonesia) and Europe (the UK and the Netherlands). These sales rested on aggressively priced prepaid offerings, as well as steady uptake of the BlackBerry Messenger service.

Despite growing volume sales, RIM was unable to keep up with market growth and saw its marketshare decline from 19.5% in the fourth quarter of 2009, to 13.7% in the fourth quarter of 2010. At the end of 2010, RIM announced it will release its media tablet, the PlayBook. It remains to be seen if this move will help RIM strengthen its ecosystem.

In the smartphone operating system (OS) market, Cozza stated: ‘Android grew 888.8% in 2010 and moved to the No. 2 position. Android sales in the fourth quarter of 2010 continued to be driven by broad availability of many high end products from HTC (Desire range, Incredible and EVO), Samsung (Galaxy S) and Motorola (Droid X, Droid 2).”

Symbian’s marketshare dropped further in the fourth quarter of 2010 to 32.6%, or 32.6 million units. This allowed Android to overtake Nokia’s Symbian unit sales during the fourth quarter of 2010. However, the Symbian OS is also used by Fujitsu and Sharp as well as in legacy products from Sony Ericsson and Samsung. “This aggregated volume kept Symbian slightly ahead of Android,” said Cozza.

The wider availability of the iPhone 4 helped Apple to maintain its share of the smartphone market to 16.0% in the fourth quarter 2010 and led the iPhone OS platform to reach the No. 4 position in 2010. “As a platform, iOS is in excellent shape,” said Milanesi. She noted that with every iPad and iPod Touch sold, Apple increases the profile of iOS with potential iPhone buyers and strengthens its developer ecosystem.

“With the Mobile World Congress 2011 taking place next week, we can expect smartphones and tablets to be at centre stage of the show, and a number of new application announcements such as 3D technology, improved user interfaces around touch, faster networks on LTE technology, and new forms of payments, such as near field communication available on smartphones,” Milanesi predicted.