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Apple and Samsung crush rivals as Chinese firms surge

Smartphone sales skyrocketed last year, thanks in large part to Samsung and Apple, but Huawei and ZTE also made gains as Nokia took a tumble, according to new statistics.

Global smartphone shipments reached a record high of 700 million units last year, growing 43 per cent from 490.5 million units in 2011, according to new data from Strategy Analytics.

Smartphone market figures released from IDC were a tad more modest. IDC said smartphone vendors shipped 545.2 million smartphones globally in 2012, which was 10 per cent more than in 2011.

For the fourth quarter of 2012, Strategy Analytics said smartphone shipments grew 38 per cent to 217 million units from 157 million the previous year. IDC similarly reported that smartphone shipments reached 219.4 million in Q4, representing 45.4 per cent of all mobile phone shipments, the highest per centage ever.

It's no surprise that Strategy Analytics and IDC agreed that Samsung and Apple dominated the smartphone market in 2012. Together, the two rivals accounted for half of all smartphones shipped worldwide, according to Strategy Analytics.

"Large marketing budgets, extensive distribution channels and attractive product portfolios have enabled Samsung and Apple to tighten their grip on the smartphone industry," Strategy Analytics said.

Even so, there is still room in the market for challengers, according to Kevin Restivo, senior research analyst with IDC's worldwide quarterly mobile phone tracker.

"Vendors with unique market advantages, such as lower-cost devices, can rapidly gain market share, especially in emerging markets," Restivo said. "A good example is Huawei, which [in Q4] overtook LG as a top five vendor in the overall mobile phone market and passed HTC to become a Top 5 smartphone vendor."

IDC mobile phone research mangaer Ramon Llamas, added that the rise of Huawei and ZTE as top five smartphone vendors in Q4 "marks a significant shift" for the market.

"Both companies have grown volumes by focusing on the mass market, but in recent quarters they have turned their attention toward higher-end devices," Llamas said. "In addition, both companies have pushed the envelope in terms of industrial design with larger displays and smaller form factors, as well as innovative applications and experiences."

At CES earlier this month, Huawei unveiled its massive, 6.1-inch Ascent Mate.

Smartphone giant Samsung lead the smartphone market in 2012 with a 30 per cent market share worldwide, Strategy Analytics said. The Korean electronics giant shipped a record 213 million smartphones worldwide, the largest number of units ever shipped by a smartphone vendor in a single year. Nokia previously held that record when it shipped 100.1 million units in 2010.

"Despite tough competition in stores and courtrooms, Samsung continued to deliver numerous hit models, from the high-end Galaxy Note II phablet to the mass-market Galaxy Y," Strategy Analytics said.

Apple, the number two smartphone vendor, grew a "healthy" 46 per cent annually, shipping 135.8 million phones worldwide, the firm said. The Cupertino-based company's market share remained flat from the 19 per cent level recorded in 2011. The company found most of its success in 2012 in developed regions like North America, but was "offset partially" in fast-growing emerging markets like Africa, where it has a limited presence.

Samsung and Apple's success was bad news for Nokia, which retained its position as the world's third-largest smartphone vendor in 2012, but saw its global market share spiral from 16 per cent to 5 per cent during the past year, Strategy Analytics said. There's still hope for the company though, as it has significantly improved its Windows Phone portfolio in recent months. Even so, Strategy Analytics said Nokia still lacks a "true hero model" that can compete with Apple's iPhone 5 or Samsung's Galaxy S3.

Meanwhile, the larger mobile phone market remained essentially flat in 2012 with shipments of more than 1.7 billion units, IDC said. During Q4, the market grew 1.9 per cent year over year thanks to strong holiday sales. Vendors shipped 482.5 million mobile phones in Q4 compared to 473.4 million a year earlier.