Analysts: Samsung dominates Nokia, Apple in Q2 handset race

Samsung once again claimed the top handset maker and smartphone vendor spot in the second quarter, powered by its Galaxy S III and other smartphones, according to reports from research firms.

Click here for Strategy Analytics' full report on smartphone sales.

It is difficult to gauge handset vendor rankings because Samsung no longer reveals quarterly handset shipments, forcing research firms to estimate how many units Samsung moves. Still, the tallies from Strategy Analytics IDC, and IHS iSuppli are reasonably similar and all point to Samsung easily surpassing Nokia (NYSE:NOK) in overall handset shipment volumes as well as Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) in smartphones. However, IHS iSuppli reported much lower smartphone volumes for Samsung than the other firms did.

According to Strategy Analytics and IHS iSuppli, Samsung shipped a total of 93 million handsets--smartphones and feature phones--in the quarter. IDC estimated similar figures, putting Samsung's total handset shipment tally for the second quarter higher at 97.8 million, up from the 75.4 million IDC had for Samsung in the second quarter of 2011. The estimates beat Nokia's 83.7 million unit shipments in the second quarter of this year.

Apple retained the third overall handset vendor spot with 26 million iPhone sales in the quarter. The three research firms all ranked  ZTE as the No. 4 handset maker by volume in the second quarter, though they had varying estimates of exactly how many units the company shipped. At the high end, IHS iSuppli pegged the figure at 20 million units, IDC had ZTE at 17.7 million and Strategy Analytics had ZTE at 16.5 million. LG Electronics came in fifth at 13.1 million.

Those rankings--Samsung, Nokia, Apple, ZTE and LG--seem to be hardening into the new leadership for the overall handset market (both feature phones and smartphones).

However, the research firms diverge though on how many smartphones Samsung sold in the quarter. Strategy Analytics estimated that Samsung shipped 50.5 million smartphones, a remarkable surge from the 20.2 million Strategy Analytics estimated from the year-ago period. IDC said Samsung shipped 50.2 million smartphones, up from the 18.4 million it had for Samsung in the second quarter of 2011. IHS iSuppli though put Samsung's tally much lower, at 36 million. Samsung said earlier this month it sold more than10 million Galaxy S III units; the device went on sale May 29.

This discrepancy appears to stem from something Samsung said during the release of its results in the third quarter of 2011. At the time, Samsung said smartphone sales were up more than 40 percent quarter-over-quarter and 300 percent year-over-year. The issue is whether Samsung's third-quarter smartphone shipments were actually 400 percent or 300 percent. Research firms have since extrapolated from this, with IHS producing figures for Samsung's smartphones sales that have been consistently lower--and, it claims, more accurate--than other research firms.

"While the other smartphone companies disclose exact shipment numbers for overall cell phones and smartphones, Samsung doesn't provide precise figures, instead offering general guidance," IHS notes. "Because of this, the Samsung cell phone and smartphone shipment numbers shown in this release are estimated, and may differ from the interpretations of others."

Regardless, all of the firms agree on the power of the Galaxy S III. Both Apple and Samsung also benefit from tight control of their supply chains as well as their strong manufacturing prowess. 

"Samsung and Apple combined now account for over half of all smartphones shipped worldwide, up from around one-third a year ago. Volumes have polarized around those two brands," Strategy Analytics analyst Neil Shah noted. "The growth of Samsung and Apple has come partly at the expense of Nokia, whose global smartphone market share has halved from 15 percent to 7 percent over the past year. This is Nokia's lowest market share level in the smartphone category for a decade. Nokia is seeing reasonable growth in its new Microsoft Lumia portfolio, but it is not yet offsetting the sharp decline in its aging Symbian platform."

For more:
- see this IDC release
- see this Strategy Analytics release
- see this separate Startegy Analytics release
- see this IHS iSuppli release

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