First-quarter results show that Samsung has become the king of both the smartphone and handset market globally, taking the top handset slot away from Nokia after a 14-year reign. In the smartphone market, Samsung surpassed Apple with a 31 percent market share compared with the iPhone's 24 percent market share.
Overall, the handset market grew by a modest 3 percent while the smartphone market grew by a more substantial 41 percent compared with the first quarter of 2011.
With winning devices such as the Galaxy Note, Google Nexus, Droid Charge and Galaxy S II, Samsung smartphone shipments rose by a whopping 253 percent to 44.5 million, while handset unit shipments totaled 93 million, a 36 percent spike from the first quarter of last year. Nokia's handset market share fell annually from 30.4 percent to 22.5 percent while its smartphone market share plummeted from 23.5 percent to 8.25 percent. The results leave Apple and Samsung together controlling more than half the smartphone market.
We spoke to Strategy Analytics Associate Director Alex Spektor about these findings, which are based on polls of vendors.
Q: Were you surprised by the growth of Samsung's market share?
A: Just five years ago Samsung took the No. 2 spot from Motorola, and at the time it seemed like it was impossible for anyone to overtake Nokia. But times have really changed. The smartphone market took off and Nokia was not able to react to the market quickly enough.
Q: How did this happen to Nokia?
A: The historic leaders in the smartphone market were Nokia and BlackBerry. They already had a strategy and market position and a product portfolio. When you already have something in the market you are playing defensive games as opposed to Samsung, who really went on the offensive for the past few years, which enabled them to move with the trend.
Q: How much has Samsung's embrace of the Android platform contributed to this success?
A: Android gave Samsung a quick opportunity to get as close to functionality of the iPhone as possible. The application ecosystem grew very quickly, the user interface was strong and it provided a good browsing experience and a good touch experience which really enabled Samsung to offer a strong alternative to the iPhone.
Q: Samsung also has Windows Phone devices. Has that affected their shipment volume?
A: Samsung has limited volumes from Windows and, outside of the U.S., some volume from its own platform, Bada, but it remains to be seen whether that platform makes its way to the American market. For now, Samsung is leveraging Android to the extent it can.
Q: Do you see Samsung embracing Windows 8 for tablets?
A: Samsung is also in the computer business. They play in the netbook space and the smartbook space. Once Microsoft delivers Windows 8 I don't see why Samsung wouldn't want to participate in that ecosystem.
Q: Has flooding the market with new devices been a good strategy for Samsung?
A: They have been very good at building a brand around the Galaxy name, with roughly a cadence of around a year for each update which not only builds awareness around the consumer but also anticipation. Consumers have come to expect the new iPhone every year and Samsung users and intenders [likely purchasers] are also anticipating the next iteration of the Galaxy.
They have been careful not to flood the market with so many devices that it causes confusion. They have organized them under a single umbrella brand. If you just flooded the market with devices that have no unifying brand that makes it challenging to consumers.
Q: How do the Galaxy devices compare with the iPhone?
A: The specs of the high-end smartphone tend to be broadly the same, with multiple cores and the capacity for a lot of flash memory. It's really the screen size that differentiates and where the market starts to gain momentum.
Q: Do you see Apple increasing screen size in the next iPhone to catch up to rivals?
A: Apple usually allows time for the market to build. They started out with a 2G iPhone and now the anticipation is there will be enough coverage to offer a 4G LTE iPhone this year. At this point the iPhone's[3.5-inch] screen size is essentially 5 years old and falling behind more global trends, so there is a bit of pressure on Apple to increase the size...2012 seems a good time to do that.
Q: What are the most successful Samsung devices?
A: The SII and the Note have been among the strongest contributors to smartphone growth.
Q: Will Nokia's Microsoft partnership help it get back in the game?
A: The challenge for Nokia is that its Symbian volumes are falling very quickly and the Windows volumes aren't ramping up fast enough to offset that. What will be important for Nokia is to bring out lower-priced Windows phones for emerging markets and prepaid markets around the world.
Q: Do the lawsuits over patents between Apple and Samsung stand to have a significant impact on the market?
A: It depends on what rulings are made and how they are enforced. But lawsuits have an impact on time and money and definitely drain resources from all these companies.