We know it's been coming for some time, but there is always something sad about seeing once-mighty companies slip down the popularity list.
That happened recently with Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK). Gartner Inc. reported this month that Nokia slipped from No. 3 in smartphone sales in the second quarter to No. 7 in the third.
Interestingly, BlackBerry (Nasdaq: RIMM; Toronto: RIM) -- another phone maker that has had its share of troubles in the last several quarters -- replaced Nokia at No. 3, with HTC not far behind. But these rankings may be short lived. "Both HTC and RIM have seen their sales declining in past few quarters, and the challenges might prevent them from holding on to their current rankings in coming quarters," Anshul Gupta, a principal research analyst at Gartner, said in a press release.
Worldwide sales of mobile phones to end users dropped 3.1 percent from a year earlier, to nearly 428 million units in the third quarter, according to Gartner. Smartphone sales rose 46.9 percent and accounted for 39.6 percent of total mobile phone sales.
Obviously, the fight for first and second place is clearly delineated by Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) and Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. (Korea: SEC). "Both vendors together controlled 46.5 percent of [the] smartphone market leaving a handful of vendors fighting over a distant third spot," Gupta said.
According to Gartner, Samsung's mobile phones sales climbed 18.6 percent from a year earlir to almost 98 million units, with its Galaxy phones winning the global battle for marketshare. Apple sold 55 million smartphones in the third quarter, taking a 32.5 percent global share.
Nokia's mobile phone sales fell 21.9 percent from the second quarter, but overall sales of 82.3 million were better than Gartner's early estimate and were driven largely by increased sales of the Asha full-touch line, Gartner said.
As we all know, these rankings are a bit of a juggling game from quarter to quarter. The most innovative company will dominate the market, at least until another cool thing comes out.
Along those lines, Samsung is hoping to keep its competitive edge by looking at different form factors. Its latest concept appears to be the mass production of flexible mobile-device screens, according to a recent Wall Street Journal story (subscription required). The company's Samsung Display Co. is "in the last phase of development of so-called flexible displays for mobile devices, which are expected to be released in the first half of next year," according to the WSJ, which cited an unnamed source. The idea is that these plastic displays will help make mobile devices unbreakable, lighter, and bendable.
It's not clear when the displays will be available for commercial use, the WSJ said, and it's not clear to me if that will be enough of an innovation for Samsung to hold its lead. If nothing else, it will be fun to watch what other ideas come out as the smartphone market evolves and players rise and fall on the popularity scales.