2011 handset and smartphone sales statistics worldwide: the big picture

There were almost half a billion smartphones shipped globally in 2011, according to IDC, Strategy Analytics and Canalys (Gartner’s stats are still to come). But this is just a small part of mobile phone picture.

Canalys points out that there were more smartphones sold in 2011 than the total number of PCs (Canalys includes tablet computers with desktops, notebooks and netbooks, which is logical). While this milestone is noteworthy, it isn’t hugely significant. PCs and smartphones aren’t competitors: there is a little overlap, of course, but most people aren’t replacing their PC with a smartphone.

The real comparison that should be made – but seems to go unmentioned in the press – is between smartphones and feature phones (which is generic term for all mobile handsets that aren’t smartphones), because these are definitely competitors. The real landmark will come when smartphones overtake feature-phone sales – but that’s not even close.

While smartphones sales are growing fast at 61.3 percent last year, and feature phones are starting to show the first signs of decline at -2.9 percent, there were still well over a billion feature phones sold in 2011, outselling smartphones by more than 2:1.

Let’s put it this way…
For every one of your customers who buys a smartphone, at least two will buy a feature phone. And people will continue to buy feature phones for as long as they continue to fulfill their basic needs: calls, SMS, email, mobile Web etc.

As IDC points out:
“Feature phones maintain their appeal on the basis of price and ease of use… Feature phones are fighting to maintain their market share, by becoming more like smartphones, incorporating mobile Internet and third-party applications. While this may not stem the smartphone tide, it should slow down the rate at which smartphones are selected over feature phones.”

Businesses that ignore feature-phone customers do so at their peril. It is essential that your mobile marketing strategy includes feature-phone users – make sure your Website is optimized for all handsets, as well as embracing other ubiquitous forms of mobile marketing such as SMS and email.

Global smartphone sales v PC sales, 2011
according to Canalys
  Global handset, smartphone and feature phone sales, 2011
according to IDC; Global mobile subscriptions according to ITU
Device Shipments 2011
Annual growth   Device Shipments 2011
Annual growth
Smartphones 487.7 62.7%   Total handsets 1,546 11.1%
Total PCs 414.6 14.8%   Feature phones * 1,055 -2.9%
Notebooks 209.6 7.5%   Smartphones 491.4 61.3%
Desktops 112.4 2.3%   Source: IDC (Feb 2012)
Tablets 63.2 274.2%        
Netbooks 29.4 -25.3%   Global mobile subscriptions 5,981 11%
Source: Canalys (Feb 2012)   Source: ITU (Nov 2011) via: mobiThinking

* Number of feature phones (1,055) was calculated by subtracting the number of smartphones (491) from total handsets (1,546)

Reality check on smartphone penetration:

Smartphone and feature-phone sales are not the same as market penetration. Even though we are considering a whole year of handset sales (considering single quarters is particularly misleading), this is still just new cell phones. There are almost 6 billion mobile subscriptions worldwide (Source: ITU) and only 1.5 billion handsets sold in 2011. Even taking into account the small proportion of mobile subscriptions that will be wireless broadband for laptops or tablets, it is abundantly clear that the vast majority of mobile users did not change their handset in 2011.

So how many of the 6 billion mobile subscriptions will be smartphones? Even when you add all the smartphones sold in 2009, 2010 and 2011, according to IDC, you only get 968.2 million smartphones… let’s pretend that all these are still in use and there’s no duplication (i.e. smartphone replacing smartphone), then that’s still only 16 percent of global mobile subscriptions. Thus, market penetration of smartphones must be much lower than the 32 percent of handsets that smartphones represented in 2011 sales.

Also, considering how long people have been purchasing PCs (and how much longer they last then mobile phones), it will be many years before: a) there are more smartphones on the planet than PCs; or b) tablets make any meaningful contribution to the number of PCs worldwide.

The mobile phone superpowers

When you look at the big picture, which all businesses should, the mobile handset business is dominated by two manufacturers: Nokia and Samsung. Between them these two account for almost half of global handsets. Despite its difficulties, Nokia remains the undisputed king of handsets with 417.1 million shipped in 2011 or 27 percent of the market, which is less than 2010. Samsung shipped 329.4 million handsets with 21.3 percent of handsets, which is more than 2011.

Compared to these two superpowers, other manufacturers look rather small. Both Nokia and Samsung sold considerably more handsets than the third, fourth and fifth place manufacturers put together. Apple sold 93.2 million handsets (albeit expensive ones), LG sold 88.1 million and ZTE sold 66.1 million.

If your mobile marketing strategy embraces all handsets, these numbers don’t matter too much. But businesses that focus on an iPhone-only app, should know that they are excluding 94 percent of mobile users.

One of the best indications of what the future holds is the rise of “other” manufacturers, which now account for 35.7 percent of handsets. Expect more devices from more manufacturers in the future and more fragmentation, not less.


Top five mobile phone manufacturers, by 2011 global sales
according to IDC
  Top three mobile phone manufacturers, by 2011 global sales
according to Strategy Analytics
Vendor Shipments 2011
Market share 2011 Shipments 2010
Market share 2010 Annual growth   Vendor Shipments 2011
Market share 2011 Shipments 2010
Market share 2010
Nokia 417.1 27.0% 453.0 32.6% -7.9%   Nokia 417.1 26.9% 453.0 33.3%
Samsung 329.4 21.3% 280.2 20.1% 17.6%   Samsung 327.4 21.1% 280.2 20.6%
Apple 93.2 6.0% 47.5 3.4% 96.2%   Apple 93.0 6.0% 47.5 3.5%
LG Electronics 88.1 5.7% 116.7 8.4% -24.5%   Others 713.9 46.0% 579.3 42.6%
ZTE 66.1 4.3% 50.5 3.6% 30.9%            
Others 552.1 35.7% 443.6 31.9% 24.5%            
Total 1,546 100% 1,391.5 100% 11.1%   Total 1,551.4 100% 1,360.0 100%
Source: IDC (Feb 2012)   Source: Strategy Analytics (Feb 2012) via: mobiThinking

The kings of smartphones

The smartphone market has changed considerably in the last year. In 2010, Nokia sold a record-breaking 100 million smartphones. But following its surprise decision to dump its Symbian operating system in favor of Microsoft’s operating system, Nokia sold 77.3 million smartphones in 2011, dropping to third place behind Samsung, which sold 94 million, and Apple, which sold 93.2 million.

While Apple also made gains this year with 96.2 percent growth, Samsung clearly is the one to watch, with 310.5 percent growth in smartphone sales.

The smartphone market looks very different when it is divided by operating system. Google’s free Android operating system ran 237.8 million – almost half – of smartphones sold in 2011, according to Canalys. iOS (Apple) accounted for 93.1 million, Symbian (Nokia) accounted for 80.01 million and BlackBerry (RIM) accounted for 51.4 million smartphones.

While consumers have never previously cared what operating system their mobile phone ran (or their TV, video or car, for that matter), media hype has encouraged people to consider the operating system an important factor in their purchase decision.

The market shares of these operating systems will be important for companies that are investing in download apps for customers, less so for companies that are investing in mobile Web, which (with use of handset detection and optimization) should work on all handsets.

Top five smartphone manufacturers, by 2011 global sales
according to IDC
  Top three smartphone manufacturers, by 2011 global sales
according to Strategy Analytics
Vendor Shipments 2011
Market share 2011 Shipments 2010
Market share 2010 Annual growth   Vendor Shipments 2011
Market share 2011 Shipments 2010 Market share 2010
Samsung 94.0 19.1% 22.9 7.5% 310.5%   Samsung 97.4 19.9% 23.9 8.0%
Apple 93.2 19.0% 47.5 15.6% 96.2%   Apple 93.0 19.0% 47.5 15.9%
Nokia 77.3 15.7% 100.1 32.9% -22.8%   Nokia 77.3 15.8% 100.1 33.4%
Research In Motion 51.1 10.4% 48.8 16.0% 4.7%   Others 220.8 45.2% 128 42.7%
HTC 43.5 8.9% 21.7 7.1% 100.5%            
Others 132.3 26.9% 63.7 20.9% 107.7%            
Total 491.4 100.0% 304.7 100.0% 61.3%   Total 488.5 100% 299.5 100%
Source: IDC (Feb 2011) Source: Strategy Analytics (Feb 2012) via: mobiThinking

Worldwide smartphone market, by operating system, by 2011 global sales
according to Canalys
Operating System Shipments 2011
Market share 2011 Annual growth
Android 237.7 48.8% 244%
iOS 93.1 19.1% 96%
Symbian 80.1 16.4% -29.1%
BlackBerry 51.4 10.5% 5.0%
Bada 13.2 2.7% 183.1%
Windows Phone 6.8 1.4% -43.3%
Others 5.4 1.1% 14.4%
Total 487.7 100% 62.7%
Source: Canalys (Feb 2011) via: mobiThinking

Predicting trends in smartphone operating systems is difficult – we await analysts forecasts later this year. Microsoft Windows currently looks like an also-ran with a 1.4 percent market share. But the impact as Nokia – the world’s largest vendor of mobile handsets (and formerly the largest smartphone vendor also) – starts to churn out Windows-based smartphones should not be underestimated.

And finally… it is worth reiterating that handset sales are not the same as handset penetration, because the vast majority of people retain their handset for at least one year. This might help to explain why Websites globally are currently seeing more hits from Symbian and iOS handsets than Android. See this research from StatCounter (Feb 2011).

• If you like stats, you’ll love The big compendium of global mobile stats.

P.S. (14-02-12) Thanks to Camerjam for including this post in the latest Carnival of the Mobilists, a weekly roundup of the best in mobile and wireless blogs.

• Be the first to know when mobiThinking adds new stats, guides, competitions etc… follow mobiThinking on Twitter: @mobithinking.

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