Blog Post

You’ll never guess who was the big smartphone winner last quarter

Research firm IDC published its quarterly smartphone sales and market share data on Friday but without clicking the link to read the results, can you guess which company grew its worldwide sales the most last quarter? Apple(s aapl) continues to say that China is important to its iPhone, but it’s not Apple. Samsung is growing quickly all around the world, having displaced Apple as the largest smartphone vendor, but it’s not Samsung either. If you guessed Huawei, you’d be right.

According to IDC, all of the top 5 smartphone vendors showed sales growth in last year’s final quarter: Combined, these companies sold 141.6 million of the total 219.4 smartphones sold in the last three months of 2012. Look at the chart, though, and you’ll note that Huawei grew its final quarter sales by 89.5 percent from the year-ago period. That’s impressive considering the company has essentially no foothold here in the U.S., where we’re practically addicted to our handsets.

IDC smartphones 2012Q4

In fact, Huawei leapfrogged past Sony(s sne) and ZTE in the last quarter as compared to a year ago, jumping from the then-no. 5 smartphone seller to no. 3.

I’ve noted before that the smartphone market is one of momentum: It takes time to build it, but once a company has some, it can keep sales rising for quite a bit. Clearly, Apple and Samsung have had momentum for some time. Apple’s started in 2007 and has chugged along impressively. Samsung didn’t have such momentum at the time and watched its smartphone share dwindle away until it regained motion with the first Galaxy S phone in 2010. Building upon that with a full line of Galaxy devices that improve yearly has completely turned Samsung around from bottom-feeder to market leader.

That doesn’t suggest that Huawei will keep growing and surpass these two; after all, HTC and Motorola(s goog) had momentum at one time which proved short-lived for both.

To be sure, Huawei has a long way to go before it’s considered a rival to either Apple or Samsung. However, being a China-based company — where there are still over a billion people without a smartphone — and a global leader in networking equipment, tells me that Apple and Samsung should be looking over their shoulders at Huawei to see if it keeps quietly catching up.

5 Responses to “You’ll never guess who was the big smartphone winner last quarter”

  1. dcboy123

    But just like Nokia and HTC, essentially a household name as a Phone maker, that had brand recognition in markets, people would go into a store and request a Nokia brand or HTC, or they did. Might be table scrapes, but penetrating a market place with comparable equipped devices that are cheaper and readily accessible has to count for something, like building a strong base to leap frog the big boys at the table.

  2. pjs_boston

    Consider that the average sell price of the iPhone remained unchanged at $650 and iPhone market share remained stable at around 22%. Meanwhile, Android phone ASP’s have plummeted to $350 or less. As a result, Apple has >40% renenue share and >70% profit share of the global market. So, I’d say Apple was big winner, once again skimming off the cream of the market while the others fight for table scraps.

  3. saidimu apale

    Not just in China either.

    Friends in Kenya tell me Huawei smartphones and tablets are quite popular and far cheaper than the also popular Samsung smartphones and phab/tablets.

  4. gotirrell

    I’m interested in how large the “Others” category continues to be. Is this the long tail of smartphone manufacturers? I couldn’t see it in the IDW press release, but does anyone know how many of those there are?

    • Good question; I’ll have to dig around — not even sure there’s a place indicating the exact number, but I’d suspect it’s more like 100+, not just a few dozen. I say that because of many small companies in Asia building low-cost Androids. Google should know how many are licensing Android so I’ll see if I can get that figure for starters….