Rising demand for smartphones continues to punch in all the right numbers for growth in the mobile handset category in the Middle East and Africa.
On a quarter-on-quarter basis, smartphone sales are expected to grow a further 4.76 per cent to 6.6 million units in April-June quarter.
They accounted for 15.86 per cent of all mobile handset sales in the first quarter, as BlackBerry volumes recorded 1.5 million units and the iPhone sold 429,000 units.
Nokia took pole position selling 3.5 million smartphones in the region, while Android-powered models accounted for 631,000 units.
“Nokia lost market share to others in the first quarter of this year; its share declined 5.2 percentage points year-on-year to 56.3 per cent compared to 61.5 per cent during the same period last year,” said Annette Zimmermann, a principal analyst for consumer markets and technology at Gartner Inc.
Despite this, Nokia held on to the leadership status followed by Samsung, RIM, LG Electronics and Sony Ericsson.
“It was a very good quarter for smartphone vendors; Android made strong inroads into the market with white goods vendors like ZTE and Micromax,” Annette added. “More white goods vendors are expected to follow suit.”
Next year could see a decline in the market share for the Symbian platform and gains for the Windows 7 system. Nokia’s first Windows 7 phone will be launched by the end of the year, but the real push will start next year. White goods vendors occupied 15 per cent of the market in the first quarter with 4.7 million units. Next year some of them are set to launch Android devices below $75 (Dh275).
For the full year, around 175 million to 180 million mobile phones are expected to be sold in the region, of which the smartphones share could be 26 million.
Mobile device sales looks set to total 41 million units in the second quarter, a gain of 3.27 per cent over the first quarter.
“Even though we have 3G-enabled smartphone devices, due to 3G connectivity not being as developed, we don’t see this technology being optimised to the scale it is possible,” said Ashraf Fawakherjii, general manager of the telecommunications group at Samsung Gulf Electronics.
“Introducing LTE [Long Term Evolution, the latest mobile networking technology standard] to the region is a very positive move forward; however, we feel it will be a while before LTE takes off.”
According to Annette, even though LTE will be implemented by year-end, LTE devices will be available only next year. But LTE data cards will be available this year. “We are in discussion with the operators to launch 4G technology,” Fawakherjii said.
Future of handsets is in features
Users in the ME region continue to be on the lookout for feature-laden mobile handsets, according to a survey done by MediaTek, the Taiwanese firm.
“A multi-SIM feature supporting up to four SIM cards proves to be a key differentiator for products, especially in the switch from 2G to 3G,” said Arthur Wang, head of emerging market business development at the company.
Nokia has announced it needed to have a double-SIM handset to fuel growth, especially in the African markets, while Samsung and LG have such phones in that range. The Finnish company is expected to launch the X1-01 and C2-00 dual-SIM entry level phones shortly.
“From an end-use perspective, this not only leads to cost savings, but also better call reception and signal,” Wang said. “Users no longer need to switch handsets in order to swap their SIM cards.” According to MediaTek, the Middle East and North Africa has more than 227 mobile phone operators, and more than half the number of subscribers are on pre-paid plans.