Smartphones set the pace in Europe

The rising popularity of smartphones has been a key factor behind the continued growth in European mobile phone shipments.

According to a European-wide study conducted by GfK, 258 million handsets were purchased by European consumers in 2011, a 3.2 per cent increase over 2010. The market research firm attributes this growth, above all, to smartphones, sales of which rose an astonishing 67 per cent.

That should be good news for handset vendors, one might think. However, this rosy picture shields from view the problems facing several vendors as they struggle to compete with players that have captured consumers' attention through both the use of the latest technology and huge advertising budgets.

While Apple and Samsung climbed up the European handset rankings in 2011 enjoying strong sales, Research In Motion suffered the largest drop in demand seen in Western Europe, while Nokia struggled during the year due to a lack of a strong high-end offering as it worked on its new Windows Phone devices.

But it was Apple's iPhone that was the driver behind smartphone shipments with a sales spike in the fourth quarter, lifting overall results for the year. Research firm Gartner rated Europe and the U.S. as being Apple's strongest markets during the fourth quarter.

To examine what happened in 2011, and in particular the fourth quarter, ABI Research has complied a comprehensive set of statistics and charts that provide an in-depth view into the handset business and the performance of the top 10 largest vendors in the world. ABI's Michael Morgan has provided sales data as well as insight into their strategy and competitive position in the market.

Among the insights in ABI's analysis are that Samsung has a strong chance to become the top handset vendor by volume by the end of 2012, and that despite Apple's spike in iPhone shipments (a record 37 million) and rising smartphone sales, feature phones are still outselling smartphones by a wide margin. Check out the full ABI report here. --Paul