* Global reach to boost market leaders Samsung, Apple
* European operator support to help Nokia Windows phones
* HTC, RIM weak forecasts cast shadow over holiday sales
By Tarmo Virki
HELSINKI, Dec 16 Apple's long-awaited iPhone 4S
and Samsung Electronics' fresh, broad offering are likely to
stand out in this holiday season's smartphone sales which will
otherwise be clouded by global economic uncertainty.
Apple, which lost its position as the world's
largest smartphone maker to Samsung last quarter,
could regain top spot as consumers rush to buy the latest iPhone
after waiting 16 months since the previous model went on sale.
Like millions elsewhere, 36-year-old Vanessa Pigeon last
week took up an offer from her telecom operator and replaced her
aging Blackberry with the latest iPhone.
"I liked the design and I wanted to change for a long time,"
said Pigeon, a recruitment official in Paris.
In neighbouring Britain, which is often seen as the
indicator for the rest of the European market, the iPhone took a
whopping 43 percent market share in October, overtaking phones
using Google Inc's Android platform, according to
research firm Kantar Worldpanel ComTech.
"It's really only the iPhone family and the (Samsung) Galaxy
family flying off the shelves. Everyone else is just picking up
the leftovers," said Neil Mawston, analyst at research firm
Strategy Analytics in Milton Keynes, Britain.
HTC and Research In Motion -- No.4 and
No.5 smartphone vendors -- have already warned of weak holiday
sales. The year end is a key sales season for smartphone vendors
as consumers often replace their models for the holidays.
Vendors are expected to sell a total of 142 million
smartphones in October-December, up 42 percent from a year ago,
according to a Reuters poll of analysts.
"At this moment we're still doubtful on whether we'll see
any seasonality this Christmas because the demand we see so far
is very bad," said Bonnie Chang, analyst at Yuanta Securities in
Overall phone sales have been shrinking in western Europe
this year as consumers delay purchases in a tighter economy.
Analysts expect sales of non-smartphones to stay on a par with
Smartphone sales growth, which is driven by swapping for
more advanced models, has slowed over the year.
"For Europe, Q4 will not be the usual bonanza. The economy
is pushing consumers to be pickier," said Gartner analyst
Carolina Milanesi, adding this played to the advantage of
Samsung and Apple.
Sales of Apple's iPhone have surged since early October when
the iPhone 4S model became available, and the company is
expected to sell around 28 million iPhones in the quarter, a 70
percent surge from a year ago.
Samsung's handset sales this year broke a new annual record
by the end of November, boosted by good demand for its flagship
Galaxy S II model, whose sales reached 10 million units, the
company said a week ago.
The Reuters poll does not break out Samsung smartphone sales
as the firm does not report the number, but five analysts
forecast those sales should be similar to that of Apple.
Sales of Nokia products will also be closely
watched in the quarter for first reactions to its Windows Phone
models, although most Nokia smartphones are still powered by its
own ageing Symbian software.
"I don't think Nokia joining the force can make a
difference," said Yuanta Securities' Chang, noting that HTC and
Samsung models using latest Windows Phone software have not
Analysts expect Nokia's smartphones sales in the fourth
quarter to fall 31 percent from a year ago to 19 million phones
as the new Windows Phones will not yet compensate for diving
Symbian sales. Still, that would be well ahead of HTC's 11
million and RIM's 14 million.
BLACK PLATES WITH BIG SCREENS
With the proliferation of touchscreens and half of all
smartphones sold using Google's Android operating system,
consumers are struggling to see the difference among the models.
"Everybody is just buying black plates with big screens,"
said Strategy Analytics' Mawston.
Most top models also have 8 megapixel cameras among other
"If you look at the phones there is nothing particular
really there," said Canalyst analyst Pete Cunningham. "It's a
really tough market and it is going to get tougher."
Chinese vendors ZTE and Huawei have started to win market
share with their cheap smartphones using Android, and cut-price
competition is set to continue with chipset supplier Spreadtrum
unveiling last week a platform for $40 Android phones.
And the market seems to only be getting more crowded. Last
week, Japan's Panasonic Corp said it would return to
the European smartphone business next year, six years after it
abandoned overseas sales of feature phones.