The smartphone market has narrowed to a two-horse race on the hardware side, with each player exhibiting markedly different growth patterns.
Samsung continues to produce strong, yet steady quarterly growth. In this year’s first quarter, Samsung shipped 70 million smartphones, a 10% increase over the fourth quarter of 2012. Samsung has not experienced a quarter in which shipments declined since 2009.
On the other hand, Apple’s iPhone first quarter sales were up 7% over the same quarter last year, but fell 22% compared to the fourth quarter of 2012, according to Apple’s earnings released this week. That tracks Apple’s historical pattern: a huge pop in iPhone sales after a new release, followed by modest growth or sharp declines until the next launch.
If anything, the iPhone’s sequential quarterly growth numbers seem to be getting more volatile over time.
However, here’s an important distinction: Apple releases sales figures, Samsung releases shipments. This may explain some of the difference in sales patterns, since a portion of Samsung devices may remain unsold, but not the huge divergence.
On its earning call, Apple CEO Tim Cook said that the company has no new products planned until the autumn, contradicting an earlier Wall Street Journal report that a new iPhone was due this summer.
With every subsequent quarter that lapses between new handset models, iPhone sales will fall as more consumers hold out for the next-generation model. And even if production was sped up, iPhone sales may be pushing against their sales ceiling because of its high price.
Samsung, meanwhile, has done to the smartphone market what Zara did to fashion: it has sped up production cycles, introduced rapid product iterations, and offers a range of devices to meet demand across market segments. It is turning out a new model of its flagship Galaxy line every three quarters, versus a year interval — and occasionally longer — for the iPhone.
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