Apple Claims 7.9% of Mobile Phone Market in Q1

Apple’s share of the handset market grew to 7.9 percent during the March quarter of 2012, according to new data from Gartner. That’s the company’s share of all mobile phones, and not just smartphones, and it makes Apple the third largest mobile phone maker on the planet behind Nokia and Samsung.

All told, handset sales declined 2 percent year over year to 419.1 million units. Gartner noted that this is the first time since the second quarter of 2009 that we have seen a a year-over-year quarterly decline.

Gartner Unit Sales

Chart by The Mac Observer, from Gartner data

The interesting thing for Apple watchers, however, is that Apple’s share of that market increased from 3.9 percent to 7.9 percent, more than double, as shown in the chart above. This, even though Apple only competes with iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, and iPhone 4S, whereas many of its competitors have dozens of feature phone and smartphone models.

We should also note that Gartner measures sales to end users with its own methodology. While Apple reported 35 million iPhone sales in the March quarter, Gartner showed the company with 33.1 million sales to end users. Such discrepancies are common.


While total mobile handset sales are down, smartphones continued strong year-over-year growth. Gartner said that smartphone unit sales to end users increased 44.7 percent to 144.4 million units.

As the market has grown, Gartner said that it has become commoditized, and that, “differentiation is becoming a challenge for manufacturers.”

“This is particularly true for smartphones based on the Android OS, where a strong commoditization trend is at work and most players are finding it hard to break the mould,” Anshul Gupta, principal research analyst at Gartner, said in a statement.

He said that this is particularly true of Android devices, and that at the midrange, price has become the only differentiator. That’s bad news for hardware markers struggling to find profits in a market where Apple alone claims some 80 percent of the hardware profits, and Samsung claims the lion’s share of what’s left.

At the high end, Gartner said that those major players with intellectual property assets have some room to differentiate with apps and services, though the report didn’t offer any specifics.

As for Apple, the company’s unit sales increased 96.2 percent year over year, more than double the smartphone market as a whole. Apple’s smartphone share increased from 16.9 percent in Q1 2011 to 22.9 percent in Q1 of 2012.

Gartner cited strong sales in China and Hong Kong and the popularity of the iPhone 4S as fueling Apple’s growth.

In the chart below, we’ve compared smartphone unit sales from Q1 2011 to unit sales in Q1 2012. It demonstrates the large increase in total sales, as well as Apple’s increased share of those sales. It also shows the converse for Nokia’s Symbian (which has been discontinued anyway) and Research In Motion’s BlackBerry platform.

Smartphone Unit Sales

Chart by The Mac Observer, from Gartner data

We put together one more chart, this one showing smartphone market share for Q1 2011 and Q1 2012 as pie charts, as shown below.

Smartphone Market Share

Chart by The Mac Observer, from Gartner data