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Apple Passes LG to Become World's Third Largest Mobile Phone Manufacturer

Research firm IDC today released its estimates of global mobile phone sales for the fourth quarter of and full-year 2011, finding Apple moving past LG to claim third place in the rankings for the first time. Apple was rapidly closing on LG by mid-2010, but fell back into fifth place behind ZTE during the third quarter as customers held off in anticipation of new iPhone hardware. The strong surge from the iPhone 4S launch was then enough for Apple to move up in the year's final quarter and by a large enough margin that it was able pass LG in full-year numbers as well.


Worldwide Mobile Phone Sales in 4Q11 in Millions of Units (Source: IDC)

While Apple has been estimated to be neck-and-neck with Samsung for the crown of top smartphone manufacturer, Nokia and Samsung firmly hold down the top two spots in the overall mobile phone rankings on the volume of their lower-end feature phones.
Apple jumped into the third spot globally from the fifth spot last quarter thanks to a record-breaking quarter of shipments. That represents the Cupertino-based company's highest-ever ranking on IDC's Top 5 global mobile phone leaderboard. The launch of Apple's iPhone 4S smartphone, which is now available in over 90 countries (as of mid-January), was the primary reason the company leapt over LG and ZTE in 4Q11. Device sales in the U.S. and Japan were particularly strong given extra sales days in the quarter and carrier distribution.
Apple's share of the market hit 8.7% in the fourth quarter and registered at 6.0% for the full year. Steve Jobs famously noted during the iPhone's 2007 introduction that Apple was shooting to take 1% of the massive overall mobile phone market, and the company has clearly exceeded that goal and can now set its sights on a 10% quarterly share during the next spike in sales.


Worldwide Mobile Phone Sales in 2011 in Millions of Units (Source: IDC)

One year ago, Apple ranked fifth in both fourth quarter and full-year sales for 2010, but by nearly doubling its sales year-over-year Apple was able to overtake both ZTE and LG to move into third place.

Related roundup: iPhone 6

Top Rated Comments

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38 months ago

i tH0uGhT tH4t aPpl3 w4s teH #1?


When was the last time you said something of substance on this forum?
Rating: 6 Votes
38 months ago

Apple fan boys told me that market percentage doesn't matter.


It doesn't. That's why this is so damn impressive.

All Jobs was gunning for was 1% of the total market, in typical Apple fashion. And look where they are today.

And keep in mind this is all with, at most, three phones (all under the same roof), running an unlicensed OS.
Rating: 4 Votes
38 months ago
Interestingly the the top vendor is "Other". I regard this as a positive, no single corporation controls the market, this is good for innovation. That said, I would have liked to see more manufactures listed rather than be included in "other".
Rating: 4 Votes
38 months ago
Good lord, those year-over-year numbers are ridiculous. Especially because Apple's not exactly a newcomer anymore.
Rating: 3 Votes
38 months ago
Well personally I am still impressed with the performance of Others. I see Others is still winning the sales race!:D
Rating: 3 Votes
38 months ago
Don't forget that "shipments" and "units sold" are not the same. Which puts Apple even higher, as we know they sold literally every iPhone they could make last quarter, but its highly doubtful this was the case with any other manufacturer.
Rating: 2 Votes
38 months ago

Yeah, the scrubs are running a different race, the only one open to them. It's unfortunate.


It was supposed to be a joke...

With that said why is it unfortunate? Competition breeds innovation. Most people like having healthy competition that drives the market forward. There are very few that actually wish Apple had 100% marketshare and everyone was forced to buy the same exact phone. You might be the exception to that, but most like choice.
Rating: 2 Votes
38 months ago
By the way, does anyone know what the hell happened to LG? Being passed by Apple was as much due to Apple as it was due to Nokia according to the numbers.

Apple fan boys told me that market percentage doesn't matter.


Of course it doesn't matter. Apple sold 37 million iPhones. A company selling 37.1 million of the cheapest possible ten dollar phone that makes phone calls and nothing else, the kind of phone that you'll find in the glove compartment of my car for emergencies, would have higher market share than Apple. So yes, market share doesn't matter.

But it wouldn't be "Apple fan boys" telling you that, but actually anybody knowing what is really important.


Firmly indeed! Apple is not even close to Samsung in units sold (mehh... just 60 million). I bet they're much closer in mobile revenue & profit though ;)


I would be careful with that bet. In profit, Apple is probably very far away from Samsung, but above, not below. Compared to Nokia, Apple is definitely very far away in profit, because Nokia has been losing money recently (even with $250 million payments from Microsoft).


Don't forget that "shipments" and "units sold" are not the same. Which puts Apple even higher, as we know they sold literally every iPhone they could make last quarter, but its highly doubtful this was the case with any other manufacturer.


Long term it doesn't make much difference. A company cant' ship more than they sell for very long. It happened to Acer in PCs (a rather bizarre case, the company apparently didn't know itself that they had millions of PCs in warehouses, and it cost them a lot), it happened to tablet manufacturers who then had to leave the business, and it happened to Nokia when their sales dropped - one quarter Nokia shipments to stores stayed constant while the stores sold much less, the next quarter stores stopped buying to get rid of their inventory, so in that quarter Nokia's shipments were actually less than their sales.
Rating: 1 Votes
38 months ago

It has nothing to do with accepting a company is able to do well. They're not the same measurement. Retailers return product to manufacturers all the time. That doesn't mean that units shipped can't equal units sold. It's just that shipped is a little less clear than sold.


Contrary to popular myth, Apple does much of the same handwaving.

Except for direct sales to end users through Apple's brick stores, Apple also only reports sales into the distribution channel (e.g. retailers). The moment they ship out devices to a distributor like Best Buy, Apple chalks them up as a sale.

Sometimes MacRumors takes the time to point that out in order to avoid the repeating of the sales-v-shipping myth, sometimes not. The last time they did was when Samsung first shipped more smartphones than Apple:

"Several observers have also noted that Samsung's number refers to shipments while Apple's refers to sales, although those metrics may not be vastly different. Apple's "sales" numbers actually refer to sales into the distribution channel rather than end users, - MacRumors - Oct 2011 (http://forums.macrumors.com/showthread.php?t=1259190)"


Ignoring the blogger echo chamber, there are some good reference articles on the net, such as:

So why is it okay that companies report units shipped as units sold? It all comes down to accounting.

Companies need to determine inventory and cost of good sold figures in order to calculate earnings. Sounds simple enough. Diving deeper into purchasing contracts would show the more intricate interactions between a buyer and seller. Without jumping into the accounting bunny hole, let’s look at Apple’s most recent 10-K:

“(Apple) recognizes revenue when persuasive evidence of an arrangement exists, delivery has occurred, the sales price is fixed or determinable, and collection is probable. Product is considered delivered to the customer once it has been shipped and title and risk of loss have been transferred. For most of (Apple)’s product sales, these criteria are met at the time the product is shipped. For online sales to individuals, for some sales to education customers in the U.S., and for certain other sales, (Apple) defers revenue until the customer receives the product because (Apple) legally retains a portion of the risk of loss on these sales during transit.”

An iPad on a freight plane headed to a Walmart warehouse is no longer counted as an iPad in Apple’s inventory, instead it is counted as an iPad in Walmart’s inventory. Apple is able to recognize that iPad as sold and recognize the accompanying revenue (and profit).

- Business Insider (http://articles.businessinsider.com/2011-03-06/tech/30089730_1_ipad-market-share-apple), Mar 2011


Note that in most cases, the "customer" is the retailer. Sometimes it can be an educational institution. Sometimes it actually is an individual.

I think items returned by the dealer would be subtracted from "shipped", just as items returned by the customer would be subtracted from "sold" (which is why it is possible that the number of items shipped or sold can be negative).


Apple specifically states in their SEC filings that they count all shipments as sales, and that if any are returned unsold later, Apple accounts for that lost revenue separately.
Rating: 1 Votes
38 months ago

This argument is so incredibly annoying. In the case of Samsung and let's say the Galaxy S2, You don't ship the millions of units they have unless they were selling, and they are. In some cases you may find that units shipped are greater than units sold, but that would be rare. You'd generally see only a few shipments over a very short period of time.

So enough of this "Units shipped isn't units sold" crap. How about accepting the idea that others other than apple are able to do well?


In the case of tablets, there were apparently two manufacturers who shipped a million tablets, and sold only low hundred thousands. So it does happen. Happened to Nokia as well when their sales dropped (one quarter with shipments as normal but sales much less than shipments, followed by a quarter with massively dropped shipments, but sales more than shipments). But you are right to say that if a company didn't report some very bad news this quarter, then last quarters shipments and sales were about the same, and if they don't report some very bad news in the next quarter, then this quarters shipments and sales are about the same.
Rating: 1 Votes

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