Global sales of mobile phones fell 2 per cent in January-March after ten straight quarters of growth, as Chinese buyers held back in anticipation of new models and economic uncertainties weighed on developed markets, research firm Gartner said.
The data, published on Wednesday, confirmed South Korea’s Samsung became the world’s largest cellphone maker in the quarter, ending Finnish group Nokia’s 14-year reign after years of losing ground, particularly in smartphones.
“The economic environment is challenging in Western Europe and North America,” Gartner analyst Anshul Gupta said.
Handset sales in China, the largest single cellphone market, dropped more than 6 per cent from a year ago as consumers waited for new, more advanced models coming to the market this quarter or next, he said.
In related news, China Mobile, the world’s biggest telecom carrier by subscribers, said on Wednesday it is negotiating with Apple Inc. to carry the popular iPhone in China.
China Mobile is the only Chinese operator that does not officially carry the iPhone because its homegrown 3G technology is not supported by the chips used in current iPhone models.
Analysts have said next-generation iPhones will likely use a Qualcomm Inc chip that would support China Mobile’s network, removing the key technology barrier for a deal.
“We’ve been actively talking to Apple on how we can cooperate,” China Mobile Chairman Xi Guohua, who assumed the post in March, told a shareholders meeting. “I can’t give you too many details, but I’d like to repeat that both sides do hope to boost our cooperation,” Mr. Xi added after the meeting.
Mr. Gupta said Nokia was hurt the most by the slowdown in demand. Its overall market share shrank to 19.8 per cent from 25.1 per cent a year ago, while its smartphone share dropped to just 9 percent in the quarter.
“Most of the losses of Nokia in smartphones are picked up by Samsung and Apple,” Mr. Gupta said.
Samsung saw its market share rise to 20.7 per cent, while Apple – No. 3 in global cellphone sales volumes – saw its share more than double to 7.9 per cent.
Gartner said the slow start to the year made it cautious about the rest of 2012, and it would lower its full-year cellphone market growth outlook by around 1 percent or some 20 million handsets.
Gartner is the only research firm publishing data on actual sales to consumers, while others focus on production statistics. The role of market data is increasing in the industry as several key cellphone vendors have stopped publishing their volume data.