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Samsung overtakes Nokia, Apple in mobile handset race

Objective one, achieved

By Bill Ray, 27 Apr 2012

Samsung has overtaken Nokia in phone handset shipments according to Q1 2012 figures from analysts.

Ten years ago a Samsung executive told your correspondent the South Korean electronics giant was going to be bigger in phones than Nokia, and today that's apparently happened.

The numbers come from Strategy Analytics and show that in the first quarter of 2012 Nokia slipped to the number two spot in total handset shipments, having already settled into third place when it comes to smartphones. So the company which once legitimately claimed to be the world's largest camera manufacturer now can't even claim to be the biggest phone maker.

According to those analyst figures, Samsung shipped 93.5 million handsets in the first three months of 2012, apparently, while Nokia only got 82.7 million out the door. Both figures dwarf Apple's paltry 35.1 million, but then all the Apple models are smart so the comparison isn't really fair.

Not that the position is any better when it comes to smartphones; the death of Symbian hasn't been as drawn out as many expected (including Nokia) and that has pushed Nokia into third place when it comes to smartphones. Samsung leads there too, shipping 44.5 million smartphones while Nokia only managed 11.9 and Apple remains at the aforementioned 35.1 million.

Samsung entered the mobile phone market very aggressively more than a decade ago with the stated intention of being bigger than Nokia. The company carefully avoided backing the wrong smartphone horse by plonking wads of cash on all of them. So even if Symbian is off the menu, Samsung is still supporting Bada, Windows Phone and Android development platforms, just to be sure of success.

Nokia, on the other hand, has put everything on Windows Phone, and the Lumia is apparently doing well in the USA, which is ironic really as America was always the market Nokia couldn't crack.

Samsung's ultimate victory shouldn't be very surprising; the company makes consumer electronics of all kinds, and as the mobile phone became a commodity product, the skills needed to make money out of manufacturing them have changed to the skills with which Samsung is well-equipped.

Nokia has recognised that and is now focusing on high-margin smartphones even if that means being dependent on the success of Microsoft, so the change in ranking by volume isn't surprising, even if it is a little unsettling. ®