Handset Rankings: Nokia Leads, And Android’s Not A Panacea For Competitors

No less than three analysts houses have posted their global handset rankings for the last quarter, and, despite losing overall market share (as Nokia (NYSE: NOK) itself admitted last week), Nokia still heads the the lists for IDC, Strategy Analytics and ABI Research — both in handsets overall and smartphones. Something else that these results highlight: Android is not necessarily a panacea for other handset makers that are also losing market share.

ABI Research says that 390 million mobile handsets were shipped in Q4, a 15.6 percent increase compared to the same quarter a year ago; IDC puts the number at 401.4 million units, at a rise of 17.9 percent; and Strategy Analytics says 400 million were shipped, at a rise of 16 percent.

In all the lists, Nokia has managed to hold on to its lead in shipped devices — not the same as sold devices, but a helpful measure in charting market demand. The analysts are split when it comes to how fast that lead is disappearing: while ABI notes that Nokia’s share “slid marginally”, IDC and Strategy Analytics both put the decline around more notable six percent. All of them more or less agree when they say the Finnish giant now has between 30.8 and 31.7 percent market share today.

Another theme that comes out of these results is that Android’s growing popularity does not always translate into an instant win for all handset makers that opt to use the platform in their devices. Taking overall handset market share, LG, Sony*Ericsson and Motorola — all of which make Android-based devices — lost market share according to all three analysts. Two others making Android devices, Samsung and ZTE, both grew. HTC, which seems as ubiquitous as Samsung in some markets like the U.S. didn’t even appear in the top-device rankings — although it was given honourable mentions by all of them for being a fast riser.

Taken independently, not one of the individual Android-based developers made it into Strategy Analytics’ top smartphone vendors list — not even Samsung, the most successful of the current lot with hit devices like the Galaxy-S. (They were Nokia, RIM (NSDQ: RIMM) and then Apple (NSDQ: AAPL), followed by “others”.)

In fact, the only two smartphone-only device makers that break into the top-five rankings are Apple, which ranks as fourth in IDC’s and ABI’s reports and fifth in Strategy Analytics report; all giving it around a four percent share. And RIM, which was fourth in Strategy Analytics’ rankings and fifth in ABI’s, with around a 3.7 percent share.

Still, taken collectively, Android has been an amazing vehicle to really kickstart mass-market smartphone use. As Strategy Analytics’ Neil Mawston, in his research note, points out, Android device makers took market share away from Nokia, RIM and Apple, who together made up 67 percent of the market in 2010, a significant drop from 73 percent in 2009.

But those handset makers relying on Android for their future will ultimately need to think about the wider portfolios, and what is being wrapped around Android, if they hope to remain large enough to achieve the kinds of economies of scale that will keep costs down and margins high. Especially since there are so many more handset makers like Micromax and Spice Mobile (heard of ’em?) using Android and targeting the same markets as them.

And here are the overall tables:

Strategy Analytics: