Gartner: Apple's 'stellar' 13.5M iPhone sales held back by supply issues

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Though Apple's iPhone sales were "stellar" in the third quarter of 2010, Apple could have exceeded the record 13.5 million units it sold if more supply were available, research firm Gartner said Wednesday.

The company revealed its quarterly sales estimates two weeks after competitor IDC revealed that Apple had passed competitor Research in Motion to become the No. 4 global mobile phone company. Gartner's numbers also show Apple at No. 4 with a 3.2 percent market share, ahead of RIM but behind LG, Samsung and Nokia.

Gartner also added that sales in Europe, Asia and Japan more than doubled from the third quarter of 2009, while iPhone sales put Apple in third place among vendors in Western Europe.

"Apple delivered a stellar performance in the third quarter of 2010, selling 13.5 million units," the firm said. "It could have sold more but for its ongoing supply constraints and is now in fourth place worldwide."

After strong initial demand for the iPhone led to limited supply, Apple has gradually improved shipping times for the iPhone 4. Apple's latest handset now ships within 24 hours when purchased direct from the company online.

In terms of smartphone-only sales, Gartner found that Apple's iOS was the third most popular mobile platform in the third quarter, behind Symbian and Android. Apple's sales of 13.5 million units represented a 16.7 percent market share.

Though Apple's total unit sales nearly doubled year over year, from 7 million in the third quarter of 2009, the explosive growth of Google's Android mobile operating system resulted in a lost market share for Apple. A year ago, iOS represented 17.1 percent of smartphones sold worldwide.

The total number of Android handsets sold in the third quarter of 2010 was 20.5 million, good for a 25.5 percent share. That was still less than the number of phones sold running Nokia's Symbian platform, which accounted for 27.4 million units and 36.6 percent of the global market.

In North America, Apple surpassed RIM last quarter to become the No. 2 smartphone platform behind Android.

"Apple's dramatic expansion of iOS with the iPad and the continuing success of the iPod Touch are important sales achievements in their own right," said Carolina Milanesi, research vice president at Gartner. "But more importantly they contribute to the strength of Apple's ecosystem and the iPhone in a way that smartphone-only manufacturers cannot compete with.

"To a developer, the iPod Touch and iPhone (and to a lesser extent the iPad) are effectively the same device and a single market opportunity. While Android is increasingly available on media tablets and media players like the Galaxy Player, it lags far behind iOS's multi-device presence. Apple claims it is activating around 275,000 iOS devices per day on average — that's a compelling market for any developer. And developers' applications in turn attract users.”

The news that Apple had passed RIM was broken by Apple Chief Executive Steve Jobs during his company's quarterly conference call in October. Jobs asserted that it would be a "challenge" for RIM to "create a mobile software platform and convince developers to support a third platform."

Gartner believes that media tablets, and largely Apple's iPad, will sell 54.8 million total units in 2011. Last week, the firm advised company CEOs to get involved and ensure the iPad is given IT approval for use at their company, or they risk being left behind in the competitive landscape.


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