NPD: Apple, Samsung grab 68% of U.S. smartphone ownership in Q4

Opening could come for Huawei, ZTE to take share
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Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) and Samsung Electronics' dominance over the smartphone market, in the United States in particular, is well-known. However, a new measure of just how tight a grip the two companies have comes from research firm the NPD Group, which found that in the fourth quarter the two companies grabbed 68 percent of total U.S. smartphone ownership.

According to NPD's Connected Intelligence, iPhone ownership increased from 35 percent in the fourth quarter of 2012 to 42 percent in the fourth quarter of 2013. The bump came as Apple introduced two new iPhones for the first time, with the lower-cost iPhone 5c complementing the higher-end 5s. Likewise, Samsung's Android phones increased from 22 percent of smartphones owned in the year-ago period to 26 percent in the fourth quarter of 2013.

In contrast, fewer smartphone owners reported having an HTC, Motorola or BlackBerry (NASDAQ:BBRY) device in the fourth quarter, NPD said, while LG Electronics' smartphone ownership share was essentially flat.

apple samsung us smartphone ownership
NPD reported smartphone ownership among smartphone users.

In an interview with FierceWireless, NPD analyst John Buffone explained Apple and Samsung's continued dominance in several ways. He noted that Apple has done a remarkable job of spreading its iPhones to as many carriers as possible during the past several years. Indeed, every Tier 1 carrier now sells the iPhone, as well as small regional operators including C Spire Wireless, nTelos Wireless, Cellcom and many others.

At the same time, he said, both Apple and Samsung have poured hundreds of millions of dollars into mobile device marketing, and "not just during the initial launch of a phone cycle." Buffone said both are also emphasizing their tablet offerings and their ecosystem of products and services in ongoing ad campaigns. That approach reinforces the prominence of Apple and Samsung's respective brands, he said, while others such as LG, Motorola and HTC are only spending when a new device is launched.

Meanwhile, ZTE, which was the No. 6 global handset maker in the third quarter, according to ABI Research, is making plain its ambitions to grow its U.S. smartphone market share. ZTE is aiming for U.S. smartphone market share of 10 percent by 2017, up from 6 percent in 2013, Lv Qianhao, global marketing director of mobile devices, told Reuters at a company event on Thursday. ZTE will increase its U.S. marketing budget by at least 120 percent this year from last, Lv said, without giving figures.

Buffone said companies like ZTE and Chinese rival Huawei will have an opening in the U.S. market as carriers, led by T-Mobile US (NYSE:TMUS), start to move away from device subsidies and toward device financing. ZTE and Huawei have historically offered smartphones at lower costs than higher-end rivals, especially for Android-based phones.

"I think there's a big opening in the marketplace for that sort of push," he said. "The total cost of the device has more meaning today than it did six or nine months ago," so a phone that costs $300 on an unsubsidized basis instead of $600 could have a lot of impact in the market.

For more:
- see this NPD release
- see this Reuters article

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