Summary:

Another milestone passed in the mobile industry: Nokia (NYSE: NOK), the reigning leader in mobile handsets, has now lost the number-one posi…

Pile of Phones
photo: Flickr / GianCayetano

Another milestone passed in the mobile industry: Nokia (NYSE: NOK), the reigning leader in mobile handsets, has now lost the number-one position in its most important market, Western Europe. According to figures from IDC, Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) is now the region’s top smartphone maker; and Samsung is the region’s biggest mobile phone maker overall. While Nokia’s decline has been a long time coming, this sea change in its home market underscores just how much ground the company is losing in traditional areas of strength.

Nokia has announced plans to shift to Microsoft’s Windows Phone for most of its smartphones in the future, but the analysts say that its slowness in reacting to industry trends has taken its toll.

“Nokia is one of the most recognized and appreciated brands in Europe, but Samsung was the one understanding the trends first and moving faster,” IDC analyst Francisco Jeronimo noted in IDC’s release. “Samsung understood early the trend on touchscreen devices and became the market leader on feature-phones by providing a full range of devices at very competitive prices.”

IDC notes that in Western Europe, total mobile device shipments in Q1 2011 grew by five percent year-on-year, totalling 45 million units. Within that, Samsung beat the average with 5.3 percent growth year-on-year, while Nokia was well behind the average, with a decline of 10.3 percent year-on-year to 12.6 million units.

As is often the case with these kinds of numbers, they are based on shipments of devices — not actual sales. However, shipments can be a useful barometer for eventual sales in that they are based on orders from handset makers, retailers and others who resell devices.

And in the case of Nokia, sales have been on the wane in Western Europe, too. In Nokia’s Q1 results, reported at the end of April, the company reported €2.08 billion ($3.03 billion) in devices and services sales in Western Europe. That represented a five percent decline on the same quarter a year ago, and a 33 percent decline on Q4 2010.

For the moment, Western Europe is still Nokia’s biggest market, but it looks like it will soon be surpassed by Greater China. The company reported €1.9 billion in sales of devices and services in that region, an increase of 30 percent on a year ago.

The full breakdown of leading market shares in the region:

Smartphones in Western Europe have grown by 76 percent, but here, too, Nokia has fallen behind. The market leading vendor in the region at the moment, according to IDC, is Apple, which has 20.8 percent of the market (growing 49 percent over last year) compared to Nokia’s 19.6 percent (declining 15 percent). As you can see from the table below, RIM (NSDQ: RIMM) is not too far behind both in terms of share and growth; and Android, while being the most popular platform overall with a 35.7 percent share, is not at the moment resulting in putting any one single vendor out on top as the clear smartphone leader.

The bigger picture. At 79.9 percent, worldwide smartphone shipments are growing faster than in Western Europe alone, says IDC. In total, nearly 100 million devices were shipped in the quarter — 99.6 million, to be exact — nearly double the 55.4 million a year ago.

Interestingly, when you count all markets, Nokia is still leading the smartphone pack in IDC’s league tables, with nearly a six-percent gap between Nokia and its next-closest competitor, Apple.

Last thing to consider: the huge shipment growth at HTC and Samsung, at 229 percent and 350 percent respectively. This makes them the two most-popular Android-adopting OEMs, and as you can see they are not significantly behind the leaders, either. If things continue as they have been, it’s only a matter of time before these two make their way up to the very top of the ranks. Numbers below.

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