UBS: For now, mobile still comes down to Samsung v. Apple

It’s no secret Apple(s AAPL) is really skilled at sucking huge profits out of its product lineup, particularly with the iPhone. But Samsung is getting a lot better at this too, according to the analysts at UBS. And the two are currently dominating the handset industry when it comes to profits, with very little competition in sight, save for Chinese challenger Huawei.
In a report about the state of the handset industry issued Thursday morning, UBS noted that Apple and Samsung together are taking over 50 percent of the profits in the handset industry:

Smart-phones continue to grow strongly, now accounting for over 30% of total volumes and over 75% of total industry revenues. However, the performance disparity between the stronger players – Apple and Samsung – vs. the others remains stark and these two now account for over 50% of industry revenues and over 90% of total EBIT.

If it’s not clear by now, the Android(s goog)-versus-Apple battle isn’t the most interesting or important story when it comes to the handset business. As we’ve written before, Samsung is the true force Apple has to reckon with when it comes to phones — and mobile devices, period. Because not only is Samsung capable of keeping up with or slightly surpassing Apple in terms of total phone shipments, as it did in 2011, Samsung has stepped up its non-smartphone game too.
Though mocked by some for its inclusion of a stylus, the Galaxy Note did much better than analysts expected, selling 1 million units in the fourth quarter of 2011. Now, UBS says it expects Samsung to ship 4 million to 5 million Notes in the first quarter of 2012. So, even though the Galaxy S3 isn’t expected to ship until next quarter, UBS is betting this one is going to be good for Samsung, thanks to momentum in their mobile devices on the market now, as well as the brand’s momentum in China and emerging markets.

Huawei Ascend P1 S

UBS continues to feel confident in Apple too — both in the demand for the iPhone and in the company supply chain’s ability to churn out a lot of new devices really fast. Last year’s iPhone 4S launch and the new iPad launched last week show that Apple is getting a lot better at keeping up with demand than, say, a year ago, when the iPad 2 was notoriously hard to get thanks to supply issues. According to UBS:

Apple has been consistently accelerating the pace of each successive iPhone launch, expanding both country and carrier rollouts within a shorter timeframe.
For the iPhone 4S Apple launched in 29 countries within 2 weeks of the initial launch, the iPhone 4 was launched in 22 countries within 6 weeks of launch, and the iPhone 3GS was launched in 14 countries within 1 week of its initial launch.

And with the new iPad expanding from 10 countries in the first two weeks with no major supply shortages to 25 new countries starting Friday, Apple is demonstrating its ability to keep up with demand now.
But the future is not just going to be about Apple and Samsung. As we’ve written before, China’s Huawei has been making a run over the past few months to become a household name worldwide. Its less-expensive Android-based phones are selling well in emerging markets and in its home country of China — also the most important international market for both Apple and Samsung. According to UBS, for both Apple and Samsung, it is the one “to watch out for.”