Nokia to Lose Smartphone Crown to Samsung, Apple

Nokia, which has led global smartphone shipments since 1996, may soon be eclipsed by Samsung and Apple, according to analysts, as the phone maker struggles to reverse its dire fortunes.

Samsung is expected to overtake Nokia this quarter, with Apple following next quarter, pushing the former leader to third place, according to Nomura. The research firm also predicts HTC to come close to matching Nokia by the end of the year.

A Gartner analyst acknowledged that Samsung “might” overtake Nokia if the Finnish company’s third quarter handset efforts aren’t well received and Samsung’s Galaxy S 2 ramps up, according to Reuters.

Others were less certain. “There is certainly a very close three-way battle going on for top spot in global smartphone volumes between Nokia, Apple and Samsung during the second quarter,” said Neil Mawston, analyst at Strategy Analytics, to Reuters.

News that Nokia is still at the top of the smartphone market may come as a surprise to U.S. consumers, who have seen the company’s high-end handsets virtually disappear.

Nokia’s move to abandon Symbian for Microsoft’s Windows Phone accelerated the plummet as buyers shy away from an orphaned platform. In the U.K. market, Nokia’s smartphone share plunged to around 11 per cent in May, down from 31 per cent a year earlier, according to research firm Kantar Worldpanel.

If Nokia does give up the top smartphone spot, the question will become whether its Hail Mary play with Windows Phone will fuel a comeback or seal its fate. Nokia’s future as well as Microsoft’s mobile ambitions will hang in the balance: the software company has pinned its hopes for its new platform, which has failed to gain traction so far, on the staggering phone maker.

Gartner predicts Windows Phone will grow to be the number two mobile platform globally by 2015, fuelled in part by the Nokia partnership. Few dispute Nokia’s ability to make top-notch hardware: it’s the software part of the equation that’s proved tricky.

Even Nomura, which has made the most aggressive prediction of Nokia’s fall, acknowledges that the company could quickly come back but doesn’t think it’s likely.

“Market shares in mobile phones have swung greatly in prior years and so a comeback from Nokia is feasible, in our view,” Nomura said in its report. “However, we see no evidence of a product led turnaround and continue to see better opportunities among Asian vendors in particular.”

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