Think Apple is #1 in the World? Think Again.

by Matt Klassen on January 31, 2011

While there’s little question that Apple is one of the most popular mobile companies in North America, producing one of the world’s most popular smartphones, the California-based company is nowhere near the number one spot for worldwide mobile device shipments. So where does Apple stack up across the globe? Are they second, third, fourth perhaps? Nope, keep going.

In fact, with the Q4 global cellphone market share numbers released this past week, the maker of the iPhone sits in a very distant fifth place worldwide, with analysts predicting that Apple may indeed fall out of the Top 5 entirely by Q4 of 2011.

But we’ve seen numbers like this before, with incumbent number one Nokia maintaining its strong market position on the back of cheap and generally archaic cell or feature phones sold cheaply in emerging mobile markets.

The reality of the mobile market has always been that smartphones, while more expensive and more technologically advanced, make up a very small percentage of mobile devices worldwide. So does this explain Apple’s fading glory? Perhaps not, as evidenced by Samsung’s continued success on the back of the Galaxy S.

In a report issued last week by IDC, a global statistics firm, sales in the global mobile market continue to increase, up a whopping 17.9% over Q4 of 2009, an increase that analysts attribute largely to the rising popularity of smartphones worldwide. As the report indicates, several companies have rocketed to the top of the mobile charts, with especially strong Q4 showings from Samsung and Chinese mobile company ZTE.

But before you start thinking that Apple is doing something wrong in the global mobile market, here’s the truth behind the numbers; the success of Nokia, ZTE, and LG, as always, comes on the back of selling cheaply made basic cellphones to emerging markets. Sure global smartphone sales are rising, but they’re still a miniscule part of the overall mobile market.

With the United Nations estimating that over 5 billion people worldwide own a cellphone, it means that everyone from your Tibetan goat herders to your Bedouin nomads owns a cellphone, but the phones they own are things that we here in North America threw in the garbage almost a decade ago.

The truth is, aside from the surprising success of the Samsung Galaxy S in the global market, none of the other top 5 companies on the list, aside from Apple of course, have been able to produce anything remotely competitive in the burgeoning worldwide smartphone market.

Further, while analysts may see this report as doom and gloom for Apple in the worldwide market, the truth is is that Apple has seen its market share almost double since last year—jumping for 2.6% to 4.0%–with ZTE’s meteoric success in emerging mobile markets the only reason for Apple’s fall from fourth to fifth.

So what does this all mean? While I surely no fan of Apple and its brainwashing marketing machine, the truth is that Apple is on the rise in the global market. Sure ZTE usurped the fourth spot in the global Top 5, but it won’t be there for long, especially as smartphones start to replace regular cellphones as the choice of 3rd world mobile users.

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