Research firm Gartner is out with fresh data on the mobile market this morning.
The headline number may be surprising. Worldwide sales of wireless phones declined by 3% to 428 million during the third quarter. However, keep in mind that this figure also includes the old-school feature phones that continue to make up the majority of global sales.
If we limit ourselves to smartphones, sales of the Web-savvy handsets have climbed 47% over the past year, and now account for nearly 40% of the total mobile phone market. Since smartphones cost a lot more than feature phones, you wouldn't be going out on a limb by saying that the industry itself is growing its revenue.
However, investors can't just throw their investable dollars at any wireless company.
For starters, let's look at Samsung and Nokia (NYSE:NOK). These are the world's two largest handset makers, but they're passing ships. Samsung has grown its share of the market from 18.7% to 22.9% over the past year, while Nokia has gone from 23.9% to 19.2%. Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) is a distant third at 5.5%, though remember that this is for both feature and smartphones. Apple's iPhone accounts for a heartier 13.9% of the smartphone market.
What's going so well at Samsung and so poorly at Nokia? Well, that's easy. Samsung has championed Google's (NASDAQ:GOOGL) open source Android platform, at a time when Nokia has thrown its smartphone loyalty behind Microsoft's (NASDAQ:MSFT) Windows Phone.
There was a very important update to Microsoft's mobile operating system last month -- after the third quarter came to a close -- but it's unlikely to help Nokia gain a foothold in smartphones, where it has fallen to a shocking seventh place among handset makers. Nokia continues to be the top dog in feature phones, but that's a dying business.
We live in a world of iOS and Android devices when it comes to the smartphone market. According to Gartner, Android at 72.4% and the iPhone at 13.9% combine for 86.3% of the 169.2 million smartphones that were sold. That's in line with the 86.9% combined market share that tech tracker comScore reported for the month of August a few weeks ago.
Who's in third? Well, Research In Motion (NYSE:BB) may have seen its market share contract from 11% to 5.3% over the past year, but that's good enough for the bronze. Microsoft is throwing plenty of muscle behind Windows Phone 8 this quarter to see if it can catapult up to third place, but don't write off RIM just yet. After unfortunate delays, RIM will be ready to roll out the potentially platform-saving BlackBerry 10 in two months.
Everything outside of the companies behind iOS and Android are gambles right now, but that's also why Nokia and RIM are now in the single digits.
Writing off the laggards may be easy to do, but as the rapid ascent of Android shows, you never know where greatness will strike next.
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