The elusive long-tail of mobile shipments

[The era of smartphones is upon us, as penetration increases from 11% in 2008 to over 25% in 2011. But what of the remaining three quarters of the market? Marketing Manager Matos Kapetanakis talks smartphone numbers and takes a look at the elusive long-tail of feature phone shipments]

100 Million Club - H1 2011 - Handset OEMs vs. Platforms

Dawn of the smartphone era

Smartphone penetration continues to accelerate, growing from a paltry 11% in 2008 to 20% in 2010 and climbing to 27% in H1 2011. Feature phones continue to make up the bulk of mobile shipments globally, but the revenue potential of each segment is a different matter altogether. As an example, the average selling price for Nokia’s feature phones was 39 Euros versus 144.5 Euros for their converged devices.

Another parameter, namely profitability is much in favour of smartphone vendors. HTC has comparable revenues to Nokia’s successful feature phone segment, with two times the profits and profit margin, despite having six times fewer shipments. The gap is even larger in the case of Apple, whose profits are nearly 20 times those of Nokia’s feature phone segment, despite having less than a third of Nokia’s shipments.

Smartphone platforms: Google vs. Apple

First, let’s take a look at the two leading players, Android and iOS. The vacuum left behind by Symbian’s timely demise has been filled primarily by Android and, to a lesser extend, Apple’s iOS. In H1 2011, Android gobbled up nearly 45% of the smartphone pie, leaving approximately 20% for Apple’s iOS and 12% for RIM’s BlackBerry OS.

Apple has enjoyed a healthy increase of iPhone shipments in 2011, already reaching past the 50M full-year figure for 2010 in the first three quarters of 2011. Despite the initial disappointment of not being a brand-new iPhone, the iPhone 4S managed to get 4 million sales in just one weekend – that’s more than Windows Phone manages in an entire quarter. However, in an increasingly price sensitive smartphone market, there is a limit to how many iPhones can be sold.

Despite being the number one smartphone platform, Android is not guaranteed a smooth sailing. Apple’s lawsuit barrage on Samsung, the biggest Android vendor in terms of sales, has exposed the platform’s Achilles’ heel, namely patents. The large arena of this high-stake drama will not be set in Germany or Australia, but the large smartphone markets, like the U.S. Google’s acquisition of Motorola (don’t miss our full analysis) has indeed armed Google with fresh patent ammunition, but might alienate the big Android vendors.

Smartphone platforms: The best of the rest

But what of the other platforms? Windows Phone continues to fail to impress users, with sales being disappointing, as Ballmer himself recently admitted. Nearly eight months after the much-vaunted Microsoft-Nokia deal, Windows Phone is faced with lukewarm results, being outsold even by Samsung’s bada platform. In H1 2011, Windows Phone barely reached 4M shipments, while bada shipments climbed to nearly 8M. WP7’s growth, after it replaces the zombified Symbian as Nokia’s main smartphone platform, is still uncertain, but the longer it takes for Nokia WP devices to hit the shelves, the more market share will Nokia lose. In H1, even if Nokia were to magically replace all Symbian handsets with Windows Phone handsets, Microsoft’s platform would still be far behind Android, with just half of Android’s shipments.

Windows Phone, however, should not be summarily disregarded, as Microsoft has managed to create a substantial ecosystem around the platform, which is the main ingredient to the success of Apple and Google. Windows Marketplace reached the 30 thousand apps milestone in just 10 months, while the platform has received positive reviews by developers. The platform is widely acknowledged as having the best developer tools in terms of features, based on our Developer Economics 2011 report (www.DeveloperEconomics.com).

Even though Stephen Elop described the smartphone market as a three-horse race, there is another important player to be considered, namely RIM. During the past year, RIM has suffered a number of blows, from declining market share and repeated drops in their share price to a total service blackout that lasted four days. RIM is starting to lag behind its competitors and their leaking market share is up for grabs. Despite a vibrant developer community, problems such as fragmentation issues and an aging platform have cost RIM the creation of a healthy ecosystem. A telling sign is how BlackBerry App World is lagging behind not only Apple and Google’s app stores in terms of available apps and downloads, but also Nokia’s Ovi Store. Now, the BlackBerry blackout fiasco has cost RIM the confidence of 70M subscribers. RIM is on the verge of relinquishing their last remaining competitive advantage, namely reliability. Even though RIM is trying to turn the situation around, with the introduction of the BBX platform, plus the carrot of Android apps compatibility in the second version of Playbook, it’s the RIM brand that has taken a beating, more than the BlackBerry brand. It remains to be seen whether users will flock to the notoriously unsafe Android platform or will opt to follow the safer, iPhone route. The iPhone route seems more suitable to RIM’s enterprise segment, as the segment’s disposable income is enough to carry the weight of expensive iPhones.

Smartphone vendor arena

In H1 2011, Apple and Samsung toppled Nokia as the undisputed king of smartphones. The top-5 smartphone vendor rankings also include RIM and HTC. It’s no surprise that 3 out of the top 5 players are purely smartphone vendors; but the old guard is catching up.

VisionMobile - 100 MC - H1 2011 - Mobile market share by OEM

Although lagging behind, LG is finally on board the smartphone express, while Sony Ericsson has disowned their feature phone heritage and plan to become a smartphone-only vendor in 2012. As smartphone prices are dropping, ZTE and Huawei are also firmly in the game, extending well past their native home market.

It’s interesting to note that in a market of 208 million smartphones in H1 2011, there are very few dark horses. The top 10 players accounted for nearly all smartphone shipments in the first half of 2011, leaving just 3% of shipments in the ‘other’ category.

 

The elusive long-tail of mobile shipments

While Nokia has lost the pole position in the smartphone market, it continues to firmly hold the feature phone market in its grasp. Nokia accounted for over 27% of total feature phone shipments in H1 2011, followed by Samsung with 20% and LG with 7%.

However, the feature phone market is extremely fragmented, with the top 7 players accounting for just 64% of shipments. The remaining x% belongs to the generic ‘other’ category. But what is this dark, elusive gap in the market? The answer lies in the plethora of primarily Asian phone manufacturers out there (see a slightly out-of-date list here), taking off-the-shelf MediaTek hardware designs to create Shanzai handsets for the Chinese market or brand name handsets for India.

VisionMobile - 100 Million Club - Feature phone market share H1 2011

The long tail of feature phone manufacturers largely caters to local markets, in partnerships with local telcos. India and China are the obvious examples of low-volume feature phone manufacturers, with each country playing host to over 15 such companies. With tens of companies shipping low-end devices to local markets, it’s small wonder that the biggest bulk of feature phone shipments comes from the long-tail of handset OEMs.

The end of feature phones

While smartphone penetration continues to increase, just over 1 in 4 mobile phones are smartphones. The tipping point will come when handset OEMs manage to release low-cost smartphones into the market, in high volumes. Google is already attempting to sell cheap smartphones in the range of $100 unsubsidized, pre-tax. The rate of acceleration will increase even further if there is any truth to the rumors of cheaper iPhones, as consumers are still hesitant of the prices that Apple demands for its products.

Furthermore, most major handset OEMs are keen to lower the volume of feature phone offers in favor of smartphones, as the latter have a much higher profit margin and the market is slowly getting accustomed to the use of touch screens.

Questions or comments? Drop us a line on Twitter.

Download the full 100 Million Club watchlist.

– Matos

Demolition Derby in Devices: The roller-coaster ride is on

[The economic realities will lead to a roller-coaster ride that will shake up the mobile industry. Guest blogger Richard Kramer talks about the impending price war, the implications for industry growth, and how this will alter the landscape of device vendors in the next decade]

With all the discussion of technology trends on the blogosphere, there are some harsh economic realities creeping up on the handset space. The collective efforts of vendors to deliver great products will lead to an all-out smash-up for market share, bringing steep declines in pricing.

In November 2009 I wrote a note about what Arete saw as the impending dynamics of the mobile device market. I called it Demolition Derby. This followed on from a piece called Clash of the Titans, about how the PC and Handset worlds were colliding, brought together by common software platforms and adopting common chipset architectures. As handsets morphed into connected devices, it opened the door for computing industry players, now flooding in.

New categories of non-phone devices
A USB modem/datacard market of 70m units in 2009 should counted as an extra third of the smartphone market, as it connected a range of computing devices. By the end of 2010, I believe there will be many new categories of non-phone mobile devices to track (datacards, embedded PCs, tablets, etc.), and they may be equal to high-end smartphone market in units in 2011.  Having looked at the roadmaps of nearly every established and wannabe vendor in the mobile device space, I cannot recall a period in the past 15 years of covering the device market with so many credible vendors, most with their best product portfolios ever, tossing their hats in the ring.  I see three things happening because of this:

 

1. First, a brutal price war is coming. This will affect nearly every segment of the mobile device market. Anyone who thinks they are insulated from this price war is simply deluded. I have lost count of the number of vendors planning to offer a touch-screen slim mono-bloc Android device for H2 2010. The only thing that will set all these devices apart will be brand, and in the end, price.  Chipmakers – the canaries in the handset coal mine – are already talking about slim HSPA modems at $10 price points, and $20 combined application processors and RF. Both Huawei and ZTE now targeting Top Three positions in devices, with deep engagements developing operator brands. They are already #1 and #2 in USB modems.  Just look at the pricing trends ZTE and Huawei brought to the infrastructure market; this will come to mobile devices.

2. Second, growth will rebound with a vengeance. I expect 15% volume growth in 2010, well ahead of the cautious consensus of 8%.  I first noted this failure of vision in forecasting in a 2005 note entitled “A Billion Handsets in 2007” when the consensus was looking for 6% growth whereas we got 20%+ growth for three years, thanks to the onset of $25 BoM devices. Consumers will not care about software platform debates or feature creep packing devices with GHz processors in 2010. Ask your friends who don’t read mobile blogs and aren’t hung up about AppStores or tear-downs:  they will simply respond to an impossibly wide choice of impossibly great devices, offered to them at impossibly cheap prices.

3. Third, the detente is over. The long-term stability that alllowed the top five vendors to command 80% market share for most of this decade is breaking down.  This is not simply a question of “Motorola fades, Samsung steps in” or “LG replaces SonyEricsson in the featurephone space”.  Within a year, there could be dangerously steep market share declines among the former market leaders (i.e. Nokia) to accompany their decline in value share. Operators are grasping control of the handset value chain; many intend to follow the lead of Vodafone 360 to develop their own range of mid-tier and low-end devices. Whether or not this delivers better user experiences, operators are determined to target their subsidy spend to their favourite ODM partners. In developed markets, long-established vendors are getting eclipsed: in 2010, RIM or Apple could pass traditional vendors like SonyEricsson or Motorola in units. RIM and Apple already handily out-paced older rivals in sales value, and with $41bn of estimated sales in 2010, are on par with Nokia.

Hyper competition
So where does this lead us? Even with far greater volumes than anyone dares to imagine, there is no way to satisfy everyone’s hopes of share gains, or profits. With Apple driving to $25bn in 2010 sales and Mediatek-based customers seeking share in emerging markets, the mobile device market is entering a phase of hyper-competition. It is all too easy for industry pundits to forget that Motorola and Sony Ericsson collectively lost over $5bn in the past 2.5 years. More such losses are to come.

Never before have we seen so many vendors acting individually rationally, but collectively insane. Albert Einstein once famously said that “the defintiion of insanity was doing the same thing over and over but expecting a different result”.

The men in the white coats will have a field day with the mobile device market in 2010.

– Richard

[After four years as the #1 rated technology analyst in Europe, Richard Kramer left Goldman Sachs in 2000 to form an independent global technology research group. Arete has 10 years experience dissecting the financials and industry trends in  semis, software, devices and telecom operators, out of offices in London, Boston, New York and Hong Kong. Richard can be reached at richard [dot] kramer [at] arete.net]