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Apple slips to 5th in global cell phone maker rankings

New data from IDC shows that Apple is among the top 5 mobile phone sellers worldwide for the second quarter in a row, though it slipped from fourth to fifth place.

Last year marked a major milestone for the Cupertino, Calif., iPhone maker, when IDC's third quarter 2010 data bumped the company from the smaller top smartphone vendor lists to the number 4 spot on the list of the five largest mobile phone vendors, passing BlackBerry maker Research in Motion on the way.

According to a report from IDC published Thursday, Apple posted 86 percent year-over-year growth in the fourth quarter of 2010, giving it a 4 percent share of the market and the fifth-place spot among global vendors. Nokia, Samsung, LG Electronics and ZTE took the other top spots, respectively.

The main mover last quarter was Chinese manufacturer ZTE, which leapt up from the "Other" category to the number 4 spot. ZTE's unit shipments of 16.8 million bested Apple's 16.2 million, though the iPhone's Average Selling Price of $625 is undoubtedly higher than ZTE's handsets, most of which are traditional feature phones.

ZTE has, however, seen unit growth with its smartphone offerings. "While most of [ZTE's] shipments have historically concentrated on entry-level and mid-range devices, some of its recent success is directly attributable to its rapidly expanding smartphone line, such as the Android-based Blade and Racer devices," IDC said.

RIM's 35 percent growth rate wasn't enough to keep it on the list of top mobile phone vendors. Apple CEO Steve Jobs said in October last year that he doesn't see RIM catching up to his company "in the foreseeable future."

Source: IDC Worldwide Mobile Phone Tracker

Apple's iPhone market share growth has been constrained due to supply issues. During the company's Q1 for fiscal 2011, Chief Operating Officer Tim Cook admitted that Apple continues to have a "sizable backlog" on the iPhone and could have sold more if they were able to make more. China, in particular, represents a golden opportunity for the iPhone maker, as the iPhone 4 remains sold out in the country four months after the device's launch.

In 2011, the Feb. 10 launch of a CDMA iPhone on Verizon could help boost Apple's sales figures. One recent survey estimated that Verizon could pick up as many as 25 million new subscribers with the iPhone, though the figure is only a "directional" number, not a prediction.

According to IDC, the worldwide mobile phone market grew 17.9 percent in the December 2010 quarter, a significant improvement over the 2009 market decline of 1.6%.

"The mobile phone market has the wind behind its sails," said Kevin Restivo, senior research analyst with IDC's Worldwide Mobile Phone Tracker. "Mobile phone users are eager to swap out older devices for ones that handle data as well as voice, which is driving growth and replacement cycles."

IDC also noted that the fourth and fifth place spots on the list will likely be up for grabs this year. "Change-up among the number four and five vendors could be a regular occurrence this year," said Ramon Llamas, senior research analyst with IDC's Mobile Devices Technology and Trends team. "Motorola, Research In Motion, and Sony Ericsson, all vendors with a tight focus on the fast-growing smartphone market who had ranked among the top five worldwide vendors during 2010 are well within striking distance to move back into the top five list."