Worldwide sales of smart phones to end-users reached 38.1 million units in the fourth quarter of 2008, an increase of 3.7 per cent over the same period in 2007, said Gartner. However, sequential growth slowed down, added the US-based research firm.
Global sales of smart phones for the year 2008 reached 139.3 million devices, up 13.9 per cent compared with 2007.
Fewer compelling new products
"After a strong third quarter with new product introductions, sequential growth slowed down again in the fourth quarter as fewer compelling new products and the worsened economic climate continued to make data plans associated with smart phones out of reach for most consumers," said Roberta Cozza, research director at Gartner.
"In general in 2008, the focus from vendors and operators on increasing their smart phone portfolios remained very strong. Samsung, RIM, HTC and Apple saw their volumes and share increase during 2008, thanks to their ability to offer compelling device experiences and touch interfaces," said Cozza.
As a proportion of all mobile device sales, smart phones remained stable at 12 per cent in the fourth quarter of 2008, from 11 per cent in the same period in 2007.
Nokia topped ranking
Samsung entered the top five vendors ranking for the first time, replacing Sharp. RIM recorded an increase in sales both sequentially and year-over-year, while Nokia's volumes continued to fall.
Nokia maintained its number one position, but in the fourth quarter of 2008 its smart phone sales declined by 16.8 per cent year-on-year. This also contributed to the overall weakness of the global smart phone segment in the same quarter, as the company commanded 40.8 per cent of the market.
Nokia's entry-level smart phone range will continue to offer good value for the money, but Nokia remains more exposed to pressure from competition in the higher end of the consumer smart phone market as the Nseries loses its appeal.
Apple ranked third
Apple's initial sell-through dropped significantly as sales fell during the fourth quarter. Nevertheless, Apple maintained its third position in the global rankings. Apple built an inventory of about two million iPhone units in the third quarter of 2008 which did not reduce significantly in the fourth quarter.
With Apple's sequential decline, volumes were driven by new product introductions such as the RIM Storm, the T-Mobile G1 (the first product based on Google's Android platform), and strong performance from Samsung's touchscreen products. HTC had a very strong quarter with record sales of its HTC-branded devices and operator-branded devices.
Symbian's share dropped
In the smart phone operating system (OS) market, Symbian's share of the global market decreased to 47.1 per cent in the fourth quarter of 2008, down from its 2007 share of 62.3 per cent. Pressure from new platforms entering the consumer space, the continued decline of Nokia's smart phone sales and the weakness of the Japanese mobile device market have negatively affected Symbian's share.
Meanwhile, RIM successfully grew its year-on-year share of the global smart phone market to 19.5 per cent from 10.9 per cent. Gartner estimated that Android smart phones accounted for 20 per cent of total Linux sales in the fourth quarter of 2008.
Microsoft gained share
In the fourth quarter of 2008, Microsoft's share of the global smart phone market improved sequentially, with unit sales up 16 per cent over the third quarter.
This was mainly driven by the popularity of Samsung Omnia and touchscreen products from HTC. Sales of Linux-based smart phones were up by 19 per cent year-over-year, mainly through Android-based smart phones being available through T-Mobile during the fourth quarter of 2008.
Full qwerty keyboard
Smart phones will also see increased competition from full-featured enhanced phones that may offer a full qwerty keyboard. These devices offer much of the functionality of a smart phone, but at a lower price.
Smart phone sales in the Asia Pacific recorded a 2.3 per cent sequential growth, reaching 7.5 million unit sales, even though overall mobile device sales dropped by 9.2 per cent. The drop in overall sales was attributed to weak consumer confidence, but sales of high-end devices remained good, leading to positive sequential growth for smart phones.
Market leader Nokia lost market share marginally by two per cent to Apple. Others that gained in the region were RIM and Samsung. Touch-based devices continued to attract consumers in this segment.
"In 2009, the mobile platform will be a major battleground as the associated user experience and role of the ecosystem grow in importance," said Cozza.
This story, "Gartner: Smart Phone Sales Start to Slow" was originally published by MIS Asia.