Apple Inc passed Samsung Electronics Co to become the world’s biggest smartphone vendor in the fourth quarter on surging sales of its iPhone, Gartner Inc said.
Almost a quarter of smartphones sold were iPhones as Apple’s market share rose to 23.8 percent from 15.8 percent a year earlier, the Stamford, Connecticut-based researcher said. Apple sold 35.5 million smartphones to consumers while Samsung sold 34 million, Gartner said.
Global sales of such handsets that use computer-like processors and can handle business e-mail and streaming video increased 47 percent to 149 million units. Apple’s sequential growth may slow this quarter as pent-up demand was largely sated by holiday sales, Roberta Cozza, a Gartner analyst based in Egham, UK, said in an interview.
“The wild card for [this year] is China,” Cozza said.
“If Apple closes a deal with China Telecom (中國電信) or China Mobile (中國移動) they could see their units double in that market,” he said.
Gartner forecast 39 percent growth in smartphones this year, slowing from 58 percent last year. Google Inc’s Android software ran on more than half of all smartphones sold, according to Gartner.
Nokia Oyj’s smartphone market share fell to 12 percent, from about 30 percent a year earlier, putting it third, Cozza said. Nokia’s share declined as the Finnish company shifted its focus to Microsoft Corp’s Windows Phone software and phased out the 10-year-old Symbian line.
The introduction of Nokia’s Lumia handsets didn’t stem a decline in Microsoft’s market share, which dropped to 1.9 percent from 3.4 percent in the fourth quarter, Gartner said. Cozza said she expects Windows Phone to reach an 8.6 percent share of smartphones by the end of the year.
Apple’s smartphone success made it the world’s third-largest vendor of handsets overall, passing LG Electronics Co, which fell to fifth place behind ZTE Corp (中興). Nokia kept its position as the biggest vendor with a 23.4 percent share, narrowing its lead over Samsung to 4 percentage points.
Gartner forecast overall mobile phone growth at 7 percent this year, slowing from 11.1 percent last year.
In related news, Apple is testing a tablet computer with a smaller screen than the hot-selling iPad, The Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday.
The newspaper, quoting unidentified people familiar with the situation, said the California gadget-maker was working with component suppliers in Asia to test the tablet computer with a smaller display.
The Journal quoted officials at Apple suppliers as saying the company has shown them screen designs for a device with a 20cm display.
The iPad has a 24.6cm screen. Apple has sold more than 55 million iPads since launching the device in April 2010.
The Journal said Apple was working with Taiwan’s AU Optronics Co (AUO, 友達光電) and South Korea’s LG Display Co to supply the test panels.
The newspaper cautioned that Apple frequently works with suppliers to test new designs and “could opt not to proceed with the device.”
Apple reportedly plans to unveil a new version of the iPad in the first week of March. According to the Journal, the “iPad 3” will have a higher resolution screen than the iPad 2 but will be the same size.
Both Amazon.com Inc and Samsung Electronics Co offer smaller and lower-priced tablets than the iPad.