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With Samsung, Apple dominating smartphones, where's the rest of the field?

Some question whether Nokia, RIM, Motorola and others can grow, much less hold on

August 14, 2012 12:19 PM ET

Computerworld - While Samsung and Apple thrive in the overall smartphone market, the situation is uncertain, perhaps dire, for several cell-phone vendors, including Research In Motion, Nokia and Motorola.

Gartner on Tuesday reported that smartphone sales surged in the second quarter, by nearly 43%, to 153.7 million units compared to the same quarter a year ago, with Apple and Samsung taking about half the total. Samsung reached 29.7% share for smartphones in the second quarter, while Apple reached 18.8% share.

No other smartphone vendors had even close to 10% of the smartphone share. Samsung and Apple have been steadily widening the gap between themselves and the rest of the field in recent quarters, Gartner noted.

Year over year, RIM smartphone sales declined from 3% to 1.9% in the second quarter, while Nokia's Symbian OS declined from 22% to 5.9%, Gartner said. Motorola saw its share of Android devices decline from 9.4% to 5.9%, as it sold about 1 million fewer phones.

Other vendors, such as LG, Sony and HTC, also saw declines in phone sales, including smartphones. Gartner credited HTC with selling 9.3 million smartphones in the second quarter, after selling 7.7 million during the first quarter. Still, the 9.3 million was down from 11 million sold in the second quarter of 2011.

Phones running the Windows Phone OS had an uptick in the second quarter over the same period in 2011. It jumped to a 2.7% share of smartphones over 1.6% a year earlier, on an increase of nearly 1 million more sold, reaching a total of 4 million.

That Windows Phone improvement offers some promise for Nokia, which sells Windows Phone amid declining sales of Symbian. Even so, Gartner noted that Nokia hasn't had impressive results with its Lumia line.

Nokia, RIM and Motorola are all seeing significant job cuts largely due to the competitive smartphone market. The most recent was from Motorola, owned by Google, which announced Monday it will cut 4,000 jobs, or 20% of the total, amid plans to produce fewer phone models. Nokia has pinned its hopes on Windows Phone 8 models coming soon, while RIM is touting its BlackBerry 10 OS and phones for the first quarter of 2013.

Analysts said the unfolding story for the smartphone competitors to Apple and Samsung will reach a climax in the next six months, if it hasn't been reached already. Some analysts doubt that any of these competitors will surge ahead by much, although Gartner found HTC's second quarter encouraging.

"The numbers all tell a very straightforward story at the moment. You either have a strong brand or differentiate your offering enough to stand out or make it cheap enough so it sells," said Carolina Milanesi, a Gartner analyst.

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