Dubai: Mobile phone sales in the Middle East and Africa (MEA) contracted by five per cent year-on-year in the first quarter of 2013, but the biggest surprise was the growth in smartphones, which not only grew year-on-year but also quarter-on-quarter.
“The first quarter of every year is usually dull after the strong and seasonal fourth quarter. The growth in the quarter was mainly due to Apple’s iPhone 5 reaching all the markets in MEA. The volume more than doubled from the fourth quarter of last year,” Annette Zimmermann, principal analyst at Gartner Deutschland GmbH, said in an exclusive to Gulf News.
The region absorbed 11.44 million smartphones in the first quarter, registering a growth of three per cent compared to the fourth quarter of last year to 11.2 million and 30 per cent year-on-year from 8.45 million.
She said Nokia was still the number one in total phone sales but Samsung was narrowing the gap. Nokia had a market share of 48 per cent and Samsung had 22 per cent in the first quarter of last year. This year, Nokia had 37 per cent market share and Samsung is at 25 per cent.
Total handset sales in the first quarter stood at 43.84 million. BlackBerry lost some volume as Apple was the strong contender.
Feature phones dominate
Feature phones are still the king in this region as smartphones accounted for just 26.09 per cent of the total sales.
“Smartphone business for Nokia is still not good and feature phones, which were good for Nokia, are also not doing well. Nokia’s Asha phones were getting good competition from other vendors and eating into its market share,” Zimmermann said.
Nokia’s features phones are expected to do better in the second quarter.
Windows phone sales registered less than two per cent of the total and mainly driven by Nokia Lumias.
She said Windows was still not able to ramp up sales and they still need to have more mid-range models like Lumia 720 and Lumia 620.
“Nokia will put all its resources into Windows and don’t expect them to look for an alternative platform. I don’t think they have a plan B.”
Samsung increased its smartphone market share to more than 50 per cent in the quarter, followed by Apple with 11.4 per cent, BlackBerry with 10 per cent, Sony with 6.9 per cent and Nokia with 3.7 per cent.
“Symbian platform is really fading out from the operating system [arena]. We had around 200,000 Symbian units shipped in the first quarter in the region. We don’t see any market for Symbian in the fourth quarter of this year,” she said.
In addition to the strong growth of smartphone sales, she said that increasing sales of white-box products from China and India drove sales of mobile phones upward once again.
White-box manufactures sold around 6-7 million but their smartphone market share rose further this quarter.
On the operating systems side, Android ruled the roost in the first quarter followed by Apple and Bada.
The second quarter is going to be interesting, Zimmerman said and the big question is whether Apple will be able to maintain its second rank.
Since Apple has already shipped its model in the first quarter and, with the Q10 hitting the markets, it is most likely that Apple and BlackBerry will swap positions.
“Android will get a boost with the introduction of HTC One in the second quarter. HTC One is rated as the most beautiful smartphone, more than Samsung Galaxy S4 in the market right now, in my opinion. We are seeing a lot of carriers in the Gulf promoting the HTC’s flagship model bundled with value-added services,” Zimmermann said.
The second quarter is expected to be flat or down but smartphones will get a boost. Around 12 million smartphones are expected to be sold in the second quarter.
First quarter sales
Mobile phones sales in the first quarter of this year in the UAE stood at 772,000 units compared to 780,000 in the fourth quarter of last year, registering a fall of 1.02 per cent, an industry expert told Gulf News.
“Normally, first and second quarters are not that strong in the UAE. We see a big difference only in the third and fourth quarters,” Hamza Saleem, senior research analyst at IDC, told Gulf News.
Smartphones contributed 49.7 per cent to the total sales.
Among the operating systems, Android is still the number one with 31.5 per cent market share.
He said Samsung is the top handset vendor with 48.9 per cent market share compared to 38.5 per cent in the fourth quarter.
BlackBerry had a market share of 27.2 per cent in the first quarter compared to 35 per cent in the fourth quarter of last year.
Z10 has not done well in the UAE but Q10 sales are reasonable.
Nokia’s market share fell from 10.9 per cent to seven per cent in the first quarter while Apple had a slight improvement in its market share from 5 per cent in fourth quarter to 5.4 per cent in the first quarter of this year.
“In the second quarter, the UAE market is expected to be flat. With thousands this side or that side not making much of a difference,” Saleem said.