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Report: Apple Takes Smartphone Top Spot

By - Source: Toms IT Pro

Step aside Nokia and RIM, there's a new smartphone king in town. It is official, at least according a new report by IDC: Apple is now the number one smartphone maker in the world.

James Alan Miller
James Alan Miller is Managing Editor of Tom's IT Pro. He is a veteran technology journalist with over seventeen years of experience creating and developing magazine and online content. Founding editor of numerous business and enterprise computing sites at the network, James headed up the After Hours section at PC Magazine, as well as hardware and software sections of various Windows publications.

Step aside Nokia and RIM, there's a new smartphone king in town. It's official, at least according a new report by IDC: Apple is now the number one smartphone maker in the world. 

Of course, anyone who's been following the mobile device market, even peripherally, shouldn't be surprised by this occurrence. In fact, most folks are more than likely asking themselves: What took so long?

Apple turned the smartphone market on its ear not just with the introduction of the first iPhone—despite its smarts, a notoriously poor voice phone—and iOS a little over four years ago, but with the roll out of the App Store and the explosion of the mobile application market the following year. Both events revolutionized what until then had been a steadily growing, yet relatively unexciting, advanced mobile phone category by simplifying how people used their handsets and bought and installed applications for them.

It also lead directly to the iPad and what has been, perhaps, the fasted growing computing category ever, tablets.

IDC senior research analyst Ramon Llamas puts it this way: "Ever since the first iPhone launched in 2007, Apple has made market-setting strides in hardware, software, and channel development to grab mindshare and market share." The iPhone is now available from over 200 carriers and countries.

In spite of Apple’s and Samsung's impressive gains, there is today (unlike when Nokia and RIM ruled the roost) no runaway smartphone leader. As IDC senior research analyst Kevin Restivo notes, "The smartphone market leadership change signifies the parity that comes with a fast-growing market, which means there could easily be further Top 5 vendor changes to come."

A Banner Quarter … For Some

Smartphone shipments in the second quarter grew by 65.4% to 106.5 million units year-over-year. And, for the first time since IDC's been tracking smartphone sales quarterly, Nokia’s no longer top dog, falling not only behind Apple but also Samsung. Meanwhile, RIM—still very much loved and respected by IT pros across the world for the BlackBerry platform's manageability—dropped from number two to four, with HTC rounding the top five.

Companies In Transition

How far has Nokia fallen?

Well, it shipped 37.3% of all smartphones during the second quarter of 2010, compared to Apple's 13% and Samsung's 5.6% at the time. Demand for Nokia's Symbian-run smartphones keeps dropping precipitously, as the company continues with its plan to transition to Microsoft's fledgling Windows Phone platform, which has so far struggled. With no Nokia-built Windows Phones out yet, it’s far too early to tell if the major OS shift will change Nokia's fortunes. Microsoft, meanwhile, recently rolled out an update that should place Windows Phone on par with iOS and Android feature-wise—at least temporarily.

And, although RIM slightly edged out HTC, the two vendors are obviously headed in opposite directions. The former lost share while the latter grew its considerably. It’s only a matter of time before HTC overtakes RIM.

RIM's faced several problems this year. First, it released far fewer new models than usual, as it prepared to implement a major platform upgrade. RIM is also facing considerable competition in the enterprise, long its strong suit, for the first time. Not only have other vendors upped their game in terms of manageability, even more significantly demand from end-users (from the CEO on down) for IT to support products such as the iPhone and Android-run mobile devices has exploded.

Whether information technology professionals like it or not, the trend is clear: They will be supporting increasingly heterogeneous smartphone environments from here on out. For many businesses, gone are the days when they could effectively dictate what mobile devices get brought in house and supported.

It'll be interesting to see if RIM and Nokia can right themselves. It could be tough. After all, there’s no indication that Apple and Android vendors such as Samsung and HTC won’t continue to run on all cylinders anytime soon.