2009 Smartphone Stats Worldwide, Nokia and Symbian dominate but competition is fierce

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Now that figures from (almost) all smartphone manufacturers are 'in' for Q4 2009, it's possible to look back over the entire year just finished. Was it an 'annus horribilis' for Nokia and for Symbian? Or was it a case of the market heading for a new equilibrium, in the face of new competition? Using figures collated by TomiAhonen Consulting and Strategy Analytics, I deliver my verdict.

(In case you were wondering, Tomi Ahonen is a respected mobile industry analyst and his figures mirror those released a few days ago by Strategy Analytics, so we can take them as reliable.)

The interesting thing here is that a whole year is taken account of, averaging out annual cycles (e.g. Christmas, Apple July release, and other factors). So we're looking at a sensible summary of the smartphone ecosystem today. You should also note that I'm mainly concentrating on 'smartphones', or what Nokia calls 'converged devices' - i.e. phones with an extensible smartphone operating system.


Here's the 2009 Worldwide Smartphone Top 4 by unit sales, according to Tomi and SA's data:

  Smartphone maker (and platform used) World smartphones sales in 2009 Worldwide Smartphone Market share Change from 2008
1 Nokia (99% Symbian/S60) 68 million 39% down 3%
2 RIM (Blackberrys) 35 million 20% up 4%
3 Apple (iPhone) 25 million 15% up 8%
4 HTC (Windows Mobile and Android) 8 million 5% same

Others (Palm, ZTE, Motorola, Samsung, Sony Ericsson, LG, Fujitsu, Sharp, Kyocera) 35 million 21%  

A drop of 3% in the smartphone space for Nokia is perhaps not surprising, in view of the continued challenge from RIM and Apple, some of whose new customers will have come from Nokia. However, 9 of the 12 worldwide percentage points gained by those two companies, i.e. 75% of their growth came from new markets, totally new customers to smartphones. Explaining why the smartphone market as a whole continues to significantly out pace the overall phone market - more and more people are accepting smartphones as their communications and consumption device of choice.

Mind you, as a headline, "Nokia's smartphone market share drops by 3% in 2009" is a little overly negative. Its position was already so dominant that it's inconceivable that a 42% world market share could be maintained in the face of such fierce competition - people do need choice. Nokia's smartphone market share has been hovering in this region for years now and it seems 40% is an equilibrium point for it in the smartphone world.

And, as Tomi notes more than once, Nokia is still effectively as big, in terms of both phones and smartphone sales, as its next three competitors combined in each sense, emphasising its enviable position.

RIM continue to rise, with their pure focus on smartphones and (almost pure) focus on hardware qwerty keyboards - they've also been gaining mind share among the young professionals of today (a tribute to Blackberry's messaging service and social integration? the Obama factor? More the former, I suspect!). The limiting factor with RIM will be competing with touchscreen smartphones, the technology that's currently in 'fashion'. In addition, there's the Blackberry OS, parts of which date back into the last century. Can RIM rejeuvenate Blackberry OS for 2010 and beyond? I have my doubts how much further RIM will rise.

And Apple's iPhone has managed to double its world market share in a year, a tremendous achievement and a tribute to their build quality, choice of components and user interface. The limiting factor here is price, with the iPhone 3GS continuing to be a premium product. I don't see Apple's pricing changing significantly in the future and I would expect their growth to continue in linear fashion at most, perhaps reaching 20% or 22% market share by the end of 2010.

HTC have a muddled and chequered history, but there's no denying their staying power. Producing 'good enough' hardware for other people (e.g. Google and Palm) and under their own name, and based (largely) on Windows Mobile and Android, they've done enough to stay in the game, but their lack of focus and their reliance on Windows Mobile for so long has hurt them. With devices like the Magic, Hero and (yes) the Nexus One, HTC should do better in 2010, I forecast a couple of percentage points gain.

What of the 'Others'? It's a pretty sizeable group, though none individually being significant enough in smartphones to challenge the big four. Palm has shot their Web OS bolt and been let down by poor hardware, I have to feel that they're not long for this world. Sony Ericsson should do better if they can sort out the bugs in their Symbian implementations and if they get the X10 off the ground properly.


There's another table of interest here, looking at the smartphone world by platform. After all, the very definition of a smartphone relates to its ability to run an extensible OS. So here are the Worldwide Smartphone OS stats for 2009:

  Smartphone OS  Worldwide Smartphone market share for 2009*  Change from 2008 
 1 Symbian 45% down 12%
 2 RIM Blackberry 20% up 4%
 3 Apple iPhone 15% up 8%
 4 Windows Mobile 6% down 6%
 5 Android 4% n/a (new entry)
  Others 10%   

* some of these figures are not finalised, Tomi had to apply a little extrapolation. But they're close enough

Here we see again the juggernaut that was Symbian being attacked from all sides by new competitors, and it's not altogether surprising to see the 12% drop. As the phone world becomes a smartphone world, I'd expect the ever-increasing sales pie to be shared out among more and more companies trying to play a part in the ecosystem. Because the overall smartphone market is growing (reports put it at 30% per year), it's entirely possible to lose market share and still sell more smartphones. 

It should also be noted that, as with hardware unit sales, there's probably a market equilibrium being approached - it was totally unrealistic in such a competitive space for Symbian to maintain a 60% world smartphone OS market share for long. With the latest generation of super-cheap Symbian touchscreen smartphones, starting from about £100 ($140) without a contract, I don't see Symbian's share dropping below 40%. Maybe 40 on the nose for the end of 2010.

And, similar to Nokia in the hardware game, Symbian's 2009 market share is, significantly, still as big as its next four competitors combined.

RIM have, I think, peaked in terms of OS market share and are in need of a big refresh on the software side. I'd expect their market share to slide slightly by the end of the year.

Apple's iPhone is a juggernaut itself, of course, in its own way, and I don't expect the improvements at Cupertino to stop coming, year on year. With multitasking finally rumoured to be coming to the iPhone in 2010, I'd expect Apple's smartphone market share to rise again, exceeding 20% by the end of 2010.

It's pretty much a given that Android will leap frog Windows Mobile during the year, I'd be surprised if Android wasn't past 10% market share by the end of 2010, with a huge number of smartphones running it having been announced over the last 6 months. Windows Mobile has been thrashing around, noisily dying for several years now, despite mouth to mouth attempts by HTC. It's still a competent business OS under the hood, but it's looking increasingly out-dated, as evidenced by every Windows Mobile licensee feeling the need to overhaul the UI - in a different way to every other licensee. It's a right royal mess and I'd expect Windows Mobile's market share to be below 3% by the end of the year - despite the imminent announcement of the increasingly irrelevant Windows Mobile 7 at MWC in two week's time.

Steve Litchfield, All About Symbian, 2 Feb 2010