It sells just a single smartphone, but Apple is now the world's fourth largest mobile phone supplier, according to the "Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker" report released yesterday by IDC.
Thanks to record shipments of the iPhone 4, which arrived on the U.S. market at the start of the summer, Apple shot past several other mobile phone vendors, landing in fourth place ahead of BlackBerry maker Research In Motion. For the third quarter, Apple shipped 14.1 million phones, 1.7 million more than RIM and 3.7 million more than Sony Ericsson, which fell out of the top five list for the first time since 2004. This was also the quarter in which the iPhone 4 reached 17 additional countries to establish its beachhead worldwide. With heavy demand for smartphones, Apple also joined RIM as the second smartphone-only vendor among the top five.
"The entrance of Apple to the top 5 vendor ranking underscores the increased importance of smartphones to the overall market. Moreover, the mobile phone makers that are delivering popular smartphone models are among the fastest growing firms," Kevin Restivo, senior research analyst with IDC's Worldwide Mobile Phone Tracker, said in a statement. "Vendors that aren't developing a strong portfolio of smartphones will be challenged to maintain and grow market share in the future."
Though still in first place around the world, Nokia is feeling ongoing pressure from the likes of Apple, Android, and RIM. Its market share continues to dip, dropping to 32.4 percent in the third quarter, compared with 36.5 percent a year ago. Nokia's control of the mobile phone market has also been impacted by various Chinese vendors that have made inroads in emerging markets, according to IDC. To fight back, the company has tried to focus on improving its overall smartphone lineup.
Solid smartphone sales helped Nokia return to the black with its recent third-quarter earnings, but it also announced a series of layoffs as it attempts to streamline its Symbian phone division and other units. New CEO Stephen Elop recently acknowledged that the company is facing a "remarkably disruptive time in the industry, with recent results demonstrating that we must reassess our role in and our approach to this industry."
Among the top five, only LG Electronics lost market share in the third quarter with fewer phones shipped than a year ago. Unlike its rivals, LG hasn't been able to make a huge splash in the smartphone category, according to IDC. But RIM shipped a record number of phones during the quarter, with results boosted by its Curve 8520 entry-level model in emerging markets and its pricier Torch phone in the U.S.
Overall, the global mobile phone market enjoyed its fourth consecutive quarter of double-digit growth, with shipments rising by 14.6 percent in the third quarter to reach 340.5 million units, compared with 297.1 million in the year-ago quarter. Looking forward to 2014, continued demand for smartphones will drive mobile phone shipments, as IDC expects the smartphone market alone to grow by 55 percent year over year.