Global handset sales down 8.6 per cent in first quarter

Global mobile phone sales fell 8.6 per cent year on year to 269.1 million units in the first quarter of 2009, although sales of higher end devices were up.

According to figures released by industry analyst Gartner this week, shipments of smartphones surpassed 36.4 million units during the first quarter, a 12.7 per cent increase from the same period last year.

Smartphone sales represented 13.5 per cent of all mobile device sales during the first three months of 2009, compared with 11 per cent in the same period 2008.

Gartner said strong performance by Research In Motion (RIM) and Apple showed that services and applications are now instrumental to the success of the smartphone space.

Symbian accounted for 49.3 per cent of global smartphone market share in the first quarter of 2009, down from 56.9 per cent share in the first quarter of 2008. RIM’s smartphone market share reached 19.9 per cent, up from 13.3 per cent, while the iPhone doubled its share to 10.8 per cent, up from 5.3 per cent a year ago.

“Much of the smartphone growth during the first quarter of 2009 was driven by touchscreen products, both in mid-tier and high-end devices,” said Roberta Cozza, principal analyst at Gartner. “‘Touch for the sake of touch’ was enough of a driver in the mid-tier space, but tighter integration with applications and services around music, mobile email, and internet browsing made the difference at the high end of the market.”

In the overall global market, Nokia continued to lead, but its share dropped to 36.2 per cent from 39.1 per cent in the first quarter of 2008. Samsung retained second place and improved its market share to 19.1 per cent with sales totalling 51.4 million units. LG was in third with 9.9 per cent market share and there was some good news for Motorola, which after dropping to the fifth position in the fourth quarter of 2008, overtook Sony Ericsson to regain fourth place with 6.2 per cent share. Sony Ericsson brought up the rear of the pack with 5.4 per cent of the market.

“There were some signs of a recovery in markets such as North America and China, but overall sales in the first quarter of 2009 registered the biggest quarter-on-quarter contraction since Gartner began monitoring the market on a quarterly basis in 2001,” said Carolina Milanesi, research director for mobile devices at Gartner. “This was also the first time the market contracted year over year during the first quarter, a period traditionally helped by strong seasonality in the Asia/Pacific market.”

The wholesale channel intensified its efforts to reduce the levels of stock it holds in the first quarter, to minimise capital investment in response to low consumer confidence. Sales into the wholesale channel were just short of 244 million units, while sales to users were just over 269 million units – a difference of 25 million units, compared with 17 million units in the fourth quarter of 2008, the biggest difference ever recorded. Gartner said it expects channel inventory reductions to continue into the second quarter of 2009.

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