IDC: ZTE pushes Apple out of No. 4 handset maker slot

Chinese vendor ZTE claimed the world's No. 4 handset spot in the fourth quarter, according to research firm IDC, nudging Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) down to No. 5 and pushing BlackBerry maker Research In Motion (NASDAQ:RIMM) out of the list of top five handset makers altogether. 

The latest shakeup in the rankings reflects the volatile nature of the handset market; this is the third major change to the rankings in recent months. RIM kicked Motorola Mobility (NYSE:MMI) out of the rankings in April, and Apple vaulted into the No. 4 spot in October. The change also reflects ZTE's growing range of devices, including smartphones.

"Change-up among the No. 4 and 5 vendors could be a regular occurrence this year," said Ramon Llamas, an analyst at IDC. "Motorola, Research In Motion and Sony Ericsson, all vendors with a tight focus on the fast-growing smartphone market who had ranked among the top five worldwide vendors during 2010, are well within striking distance to move back into the top five list."

IDC said vendors shipped 401.4 million units in the fourth quarter, up 17.9 percent from the 340.5 million units shipped in the fourth quarter of 2009. Vendors shipped a total of 1.39 billion units on a cumulative worldwide basis in 2010, up 18.5 percent from the 1.17 billion units shipped in 2009.

ZTE muscled its way into the rankings by shipping 16.8 million units in the quarter, up 76.8 percent from the year-ago period--the highest growth rate of any of the biggest handset makers except for Apple, which sold 16.2 million iPhones, an 86.2 percent increase from the year-ago quarter. Nokia (NYSE:NOK), Samsung and LG claimed the top three spots, which they are unlikely to relinquish soon, though it is notable that of the three only Samsung grew its shipments on a year-over-year basis.

Looking ahead to 2011, IDC analyst Kevin Restivo noted that "feature phone users looking to do more with their devices will flock to smartphones in the years to come. This trend will help drive the smartphone sub-market to grow 43.7 percent year-over-year in 2011."

For more:
- see this report on the handset and smartphone market in the fourth quarter
- see this IDC release

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