IDC figures show a changing of the guard

Smartphone sales have been on the rise for nearly a decade now, and they're not done yet.  The assault of phones equipped with full-fledged browsers, cameras, apps, touch screens, and more continues to cannibalize the market for traditional "feature phones" -- handsets that lack many of these features.

According to the International Data Corp. (IDC) Q1 2013 was a historic one, marking the first time smartphone sales surpassed feature phone sales.  In Q1 216.2 million smartphones were sold, versus only 202.4 million feature phones.  Smartphone shipments were up 41.6 percent from the 152.7 million sold in Q1 2012, and fell just short of (5.1 percent lower than) holiday Q4 2012.

South Korea's Samsung Electronics Comp., Ltd. (KSC:005930) and Cupertino, Calif.-based Apple, Inc. (AAPL) continue to be the most dominant forces in the smartphone industry.  Together they accounted for precisely half (108.1 million) of all smartphone shipments.

Q1 2013 smartphone shipments

Samsung continues to outsell Apple approximately 2-to-1, moving 70.7 million handsets in the quarter, versus the 37.4 million sold by Apple.

Aside from the perennial favorites, the biggest winner for the quarter was South Korea's LG Electronics Inc. (KSC:066570) who leapt into third after spending two quarters exiled outside the top five.  The key to LG's success was strong sales of the Nexus 4 Android smartphone, along with other handsets like the Optimus G.

Nexus 4
The Nexus 4 helped propel LG back into the top five in a big way. [Image Source: Google]

In fourth and fifth place were Chinese Android phonemakers Huawei Technologies Comp. (SHE:002502) and ZTE Corp. (SHE:000063), respectively.  Both Chinese OEMs are reportedly focused on growing their market share outside of China and the rest of the Asian Pacific region.  While primarily an Android phonemaker, ZTE is looking to shake things up later this year launching a Firefox Linux-based phone, a fresh challenger to Android's global hegemony.

Ramon Llamas, research manager with IDC's Mobile Phone team, notes that the quarter was full of big winners -- and big losers.  He comments, "In addition to smartphones displacing feature phones, the other major trend in the industry is the emergence of Chinese companies among the leading smartphone vendors.  A year ago, it was common to see previous market leaders Nokia, BlackBerry (then Research In Motion), and HTC among the top five. While those companies have been in various stages of transformation since, Chinese vendors, including Huawei and ZTE as well as Coolpad and Lenovo, have made significant strides to capture new users with their respective Android smartphones."

So while the top held steady, there was an eye-catching changing of the guard this quarter in the bottom ranks.

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