All this news about Nokia’s next big move and losing mindshare / market share, and it’s easy to forget that the Finns (yes, they are still based there — despite reports that they want to relocate to Silicon Valley) are still leading the mobile market, both in terms of the overall handset sales and even in the high-end smartphone segment — even if that lead is shrinking. What’s perhaps more indicative of the changes in the market are that pure-play smartphone vendors are displacing those companies that make both smart- and feature-phones at the top of the rankings released today by Gartner.
Mobile device sales for the whole of 2010 totalled 1.6 billion units, according to Gartner, a rise of 31.8 percent compared to 2009. Smartphones are growing at an even faster rate: 72.1 percent. High-end devices made up 19 percent of all device sales last year.
The place where these two stats meet underscores how the market is evolving: Gartner says that RIM (NSDQ: RIMM) and Apple (NSDQ: AAPL), which only make smartphones, have now displaced Motorola (NYSE: MOT) and *Sony* Ericsson (NSDQ: ERIC) in fourth and fifth position in the rankings.
As with its Q3 figures, Gartner seems to be tying Nokia’s biggest declines not to gains from other big-name device makers, but the “Others” — the many smaller-name players and unnamed white-box manufacturers that operate out of and in developing markets like China and India. Collectively, there are, in fact, the biggest gainers of all, with a 30.6 percent share of all mobile sales in 2010, compared to 28.9 percent for Nokia (NYSE: NOK). “Others” also grew the most of all of them: nearly 15 percent, compared to others that only grew by single percentage points.
The increases seen by the collective little guys is an indication that we are seeing considerably more competitors in the market, with — if anything — increasing fragmentation.
The same is not true, though, when you look just at smartphone sales. Gartner — like comScore earlier in the week — notes that the only two smartphone platforms that are gaining market share at the moment are Android from Google (NSDQ: GOOG) and iOS from Apple, which respectively are at 22.7 percent (a huge leap from 3.9 percent in 2009) and 15.7 percent (a much smaller gain from 2009’s 14.4 percent) respectively. This puts the two companies at second and fourth places in Gartner’s table. Apple, it should be noted, may well get a big bump in the year ahead, when it is expected to launch with CDMA operators in more markets (the iPhone officially went on sale with its first CDMA operator, Verizon, only today).
As a platform, Symbian lost even more market share than its owner Nokia: more than 10 percent compared to the vendor’s loss of 7.5 percent. But even so, it still has a healthy lead of 37.6 percent — some 15 percent more than Android — the kind of margin that makes speculation about Nokia dropping the OS for Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT), which dropped by 4.5 percent this year to a 4.2 percent share of the market, sound like a crazy and irrational idea, or at best a strategy that is looking well into the future.
How soon into the future we may see Symbian falling from its top slot may end up falling back into the hands of the “others”: many of these companies operate largely in developing markets, which is where Nokia has continued to thrive. Their collective wins will contribute to Nokia’s loss.