As I look back at the enabling role mobile networks played in advancing the Global Networked Economy during 2012, I'm wondering what to expect this year. Last years' performance was amazing, as the smartphone became a mainstream device that people everywhere used to gain access to the internet.
Nearly 196 million smartphones and 451 million handsets were shipped during the fourth-quarter (Q4) 2012, according to the latest market study by ABI Research.
This brings 2012 annual totals to 653 million smartphone and 1.6 billion handset shipments -- representing a 36 percent and 2 percent Year-over-Year growth rate respectively.
Smartphones accounted for 43 percent of all handset shipments in Q4, which pushed smartphones to 41 percent of all shipments in 2012.
Samsung retained its lead position overall by shipping 106 million handsets of which 60 million were smartphones in Q4 and capturing 31 percent of total smartphone shipments.
In 2012 Samsung grew its handset shipments by 21.6 percent and its smartphone shipments by 123.8 percent. Despite missing most analyst estimates in Q4, Apple grew its smartphone shipment share to 24.5 percent, up from 16.4 percent in Q3.
Apple shipped 47.8 million iPhones in Q4 bringing its 2012 annual total to 135.8 million. Apple’s 2012 annual shipment growth declined from 96 percent in 2011 to 46 percent in 2012.
"It is clear that the iPhone’s hyper-growth has ended, and ABI Research believes that Apple’s market share will peak in 2013 at 22 percent," says Michael Morgan, mobile devices senior analyst at ABI Research. "Unless Apple is willing to trade iPhone margins for low cost iPhone shipments, Apple’s handset market share will become dependent on customer loyalty."
Looking at the rest of the pack, Nokia shipped 86.3 million handsets and 6.6 million smartphones in Q4 -- while BlackBerry’s shipments of smartphones declined to 6.9 million. ZTE had an excellent Q4 with 20.7 million handset shipments and 11.2 million smartphone shipments.
ABI believes that Samsung and Apple are both under pressure to maintain their market lead as less costly smartphones gain momentum entering 2013.
Technology optimization choices and a diverse handset portfolio are critical decisions over the next 6 to 9 months to come out ahead.