Worldwide mobile phone sales in 2009 totaled 1.21 billion units, a 0.9 percent decline from 2008 sales, but the fourth quarter was one of sharp growth, according to market researcher Gartner. Fourth quarter 2009 sales of 340 million units represented an 8.3 percent increase from the fourth quarter of 2008.
True to Gartner’s prediction last year, device sales were strongest on the top and bottom, with the middle being squeezed. Sales were focused mainly on either smartphones or low-cost handsets.
“Smartphone sales to end users continued their strong growth in the fourth quarter of 2009, totaling 53.8 million units, up 41.1 percent from the same period in 2008,” Carolina Milanesi, Gartner research director, said in a statement. “In 2009, smartphone sales reached 172.4 million units, a 23.8 percent increase from 2008.”
Apple, Android and Research in Motion benefited from increased smartphone sales, while Nokia gained from cheaper handsets, especially in emerging markets which generally can’t afford smartphones. Motorola and Sony Ericsson suffered losses, with Motorola down from 8.7 percent of the market in 2008 to just 4.8 percent of the market in 2009 and Sony Ericsson down from 7.6 percent to 4.5 percent.
Among mobile operating systems, Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) Android had the best year, since it was starting from near zero. It exploded from 0.5 percent market share to 3.9 percent year-over-year. Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) iPhone OS grew from 8.2 percent to 14.4 percent year-over-year and RIM’s BlackBerry jumped from 16.6 to 19.9 percent.
The big losers among operating systems were Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT), Symbian and Linux (not Android). All lost share from 2008 to 2009. Microsoft’s market share fell from 11.8 percent to 8.7 percent, Linux fell from 7.6 percent to 4.7 percent and Symbian, still the dominant operating system due to Nokia’s large worldwide presence, dropped from 52.4 percent to 46.9 percent.
Throughout 2009, price competition put pressure on average selling prices (ASPs). As smartphone prices came down, they squeezed out the mid-range of the market, where Motorola and Nokia live. Pricing pressure wasn’t just felt in the U.S. and other mature markets, China and India proved competitive as well.
“Looking back at the announcements during Mobile World Congress 2010, we can expect 2010 to retain a strong focus around operating systems, services and applications while hardware takes a back seat,” said Milanesi. “Sales will return to low double-digit growth, but competition will continue to put a strain on vendors’ margins.”