Android conquers the world -- tough luck Apple


You simply can't trust analyst predictions. Today, Gartner reported that Android passed Symbian for first-quarter in smartphone shipments and market share. That's sooner than some analyst forecasts, while later than others.

More than 36 million Android handsets sold during the quarter compared to 27.6 million Symbian phones, for 36 percent and 27.4 percent market share, respectively. Apple's iOS ranked third, with 16.9 million sales and 16.8 percent market share. Unlike most other analyst firms, like IDC, Gartner measures actual handset sales rather than shipments to carriers and dealers.

Nearly 101 million smartphones sold during first quarter -- that's out of a total 427.8 million handsets (up 19 percent year over year).

"Smartphones accounted for 23.6 percent of overall sales in the first quarter of 2011, an increase of 85 percent year-on-year," Roberta Cozza, Gartner principal research analyst, says in a statement issued today. As good as that is, it could have been a whole lot better. "This share could have been even higher, but manufacturers announced a number of high-profile devices during the first quarter of 2011 that would not ship until the second quarter of 2011. We believe some consumers delayed their purchases to wait for these models."

So perhaps Apple is wise not to pre-announce iPhone 5 and to keep everyone guessing when the new smartphone will ship. Otherwise, potential buyers could put off sales. Considering that many of the smartphones announced during first quarter for second quarter sales run Android, it's a wonder how much stronger sales could have been. Last week, Google revealed it is activating 400,000 Android handsets a day, up from 350,000 in mid April.

Hardware Sales by Manufacturer

Gartner also released first-quarter sales for global handsets, not just smartphones. There, Nokia, which is moving away from Symbian to Windows Phone 7, had more than a tough quarter. "This will precipitate a competitors' rush to capture Symbian's market share in the midtier," Cozza says of the Microsoft distribution deal. Overall, Nokia's market share fell 5.5 points to about 25 percent -- its lowest since, get this, since 1997. Gartner called first quarter Samsung's strongest ever, despite losing nearly two points of market share (to 16.1 percent) on increasing shipments. Third-ranked LG also bled share.

No. 4 Apple more than doubled sales year over year, which Gartner largely attributed to global distribution -- something I might add had been the pillar of Nokia's dominance before its recent declines. Apple's smartphone was available from 186 carriers in 90 countries during first quarter.

"This strong performance helped Apple consolidate its position as the fourth largest brand in the mobile communication market overall," Carolina Milanesi, Gartner research vice president, says in a statement. "Considering the higher than average price of the iPhone this is a remarkable result and highlights the impact that a strong aspirational brand can have on a product." Suddenly average selling price is an Apple trade secret. During Apple's April earnings call, executives stopped giving iPhone's ASP, which previously had been customary. COO Tim Cook said that Apple didn't want to reveal information to competitors.

Gartner observed that iPhone inventory was higher than usual at the end of first quarter. During Apple's earnings call last month, 4-6 weeks was given. Gartner attributed higher inventory to continued iPhone distribution expansion, particularly in China -- a market where Android is rapidly expanding.

Don't Believe It

For months, I've been warning that analyst forecasts for the cell phone market, particularly smartphones, are unreliable, simply because things are changing so rapidly. First quarter smartphone shipments exceeded an earlier forecast for the year. Gartner tacitly acknowledged this forecasting problem by, surprisingly, reducing overall sales predictions for the year.

"The 13.3 million-unit growth in channel inventory, along with some softness in demand from users in emerging markets registered at the start of the second quarter of 2011, is leading us to be cautious about sales in the remainder of the year," Milanesi says. "We are currently revising down our 2011 sales estimate as a result of these trends, and expect it will likely drop to between 1.790 billion and 1.795 billion units."

For comparison, global handset sales topped 1.6 billion last year.

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