Samsung enlists help of the Avengers to take fight to Apple

Samsung is down but not out in the global smartphone shipments battle with top rival Apple. That is the conclusion from analysts at Juniper Research, which like Strategy Analytics released first quarter 2015 data today. Juniper sees sharp rebound from Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge, which "reception" is stronger than their predecessors.

Quarter-on-quarter, Samsung smartphone shipments - 82 million units - rose by 23 per cent but fell 29 per cent year over year. By comparison, annually, Apple shipments soared by 40 per cent, to 61 million, largely lifted by China.

The country's importance to the fruit-logo company cannot be overemphasised for either manufacturer. But Apple reaped the big crop, with shipments up 71 per cent that generated $16.8 billion in revenue.

Clarification: Juniper's numbers, as presented, suggest all Apple's China revenue comes from iPhone. Most would be accurate. During this week's earnings conference call, the world's most profitable tech company gave the figure for total revenue generated from the country, which includes other products, such as iPad and Macintosh.

That said, China's importance to Apple, and what Samsung gives up there in early share penetration, cannot be overstated. The country now accounts for 29 per cent of the American company's total quarterly revenue, which reached $58 billion during fiscal Q2 2015. iPhone contributes to strong halo sales, with those from App Store up 100 per cent and for the Mac rising 31 per cent.

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"I’ve never seen as many people coming into the middle class as they are in China. And that’s where the bulk of our sales are going", Apple CEO Tim Cook says, speaking to financial analysts during Monday's quarterly conference call. Many customers are new. Referring to first-time buyers, "the latest numbers from the U.S. are somewhere around 40 per cent - and if you look at China, they’re almost 70 per cent", he says.

China is Samsung's challenge, as are other emerging markets where Nokia dominated before selling its phone business to Microsoft. The South Korean manufacturer is squeezed by Apple at the end high and native Chinese smartphone makers for low-cost handsets. For example, according to Juniper, Xiaomi smartphone shipments reached 14.2 million, the majority of which presumably plunder Samsung.

However, during today's quarterly earnings announcement, Samsung chimed in with Juniper, expressing confidence that Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge would reverse recent revenue reversals and restore growth.

It's needed. During first calendar quarter, Samsung's mobile division revenues fell by 57 per cent year over year. During the same time period, iPhone revenue rose by 55 per cent. The South Korean's margins are around 10 per cent, compared to about 40 per cent for Apple.

Samsung's smartphone shipment data slightly differs from Juniper's assessment: 83.2 million, compared to Apple's own 61.2 million. Despite China gains, iPhone 6 and 6 Plus are no longer the new thing, having released in September 2014, while Samsung's flagships are fresher fruit. Whether or not the company's confidence, and that of third-party analysts, turns to gold is a story for another quarter of sales.

Marketing is important. There Samsung could benefit from prominent product placement, including the new Galaxys, in movie "Avengers: Age of Ultron", which releases tomorrow night. The company also has partnered with Marvel around the comic book heroes.

Circling back, and looking at broader smartphone shipments: Juniper estimates 350.9 million units, up 20 per cent from Q1 2014.