Mobile phone shipments on a global basis reached 427.4 million units in the fourth quarter of 2011 -- a tepid 6.1 percent rise from the year earlier period, IDC says.
The global handset market's single-digit growth in the seasonally strong fourth quarter shows that handset vendors are not immune to weaker macroeconomic conditions worldwide, the firm's analysts said Thursday.
A surge in smartphone purchases led by Apple's iPhone 4S in the final three months of 2011 also caused feature phone shipments to decline faster than analysts had expected. Smartphone growth in Western Europe was not enough to offset the feature phones decline, despite successful product performances from Apple and Samsung.
With the exception of Apple, feature phones still account for a majority of unit sales at four of the five top handset vendors, said IDC Research Analyst Kevin Restivo.
"The introduction of high-growth products such as the iPhone 4S, which shipped in the fourth quarter, bolstered smartphone growth," Restivo said. "Yet overall market growth fell to its lowest point since the third quarter of 2009 -- when the global economic recession was in full bloom."
Strong iPhone Customer Loyalty
Unit shipments of Apple's red-hot iPhone 4S reached a record 37 million units in the fourth quarter of 2011, which propelled the company into the No. 3 slot in the global handset market overall. During last year as a whole, Apple shipped 93.2 million iPhones.
According to Strategy Analytics, Apple is on track to ship well more than 100 million iPhones during 2012.
"China is becoming a key market for Apple this year, and we expect Apple's share to grow rapidly in 2012, despite countless copycat rivals," said Strategy Analytics Director Tom Kang.
Investment firm Piper Jaffray expects Apple to ship 134 million iPhone units during calendar year 2012.
"Despite the lack of a fresh form-factor, the iPhone 4S launch sales are evidence of strong iPhone customer loyalty," said Piper Jaffray analysts Gene Munster and Andrew Murphy. The firm's data suggests that "iPhone re-buy rates could be as high as 94 percent, setting up a monster iPhone 5 upgrade, which we expect in August."
Samsung To Challenge Nokia
Global handset shipments on a full-year basis rose 11.1 percent during 2011, and IDC expects continued double-digit growth this year and beyond, with smartphones capturing a greater share of the overall market. Still, last year's unit shipment growth was significantly less than in 2010's 18.7 percent year-over-year rise. (continued...)