Apple Becomes Top-five Cell-phone Maker for the First Time

Apple jumped past Research in Motion and Sony Ericsson during the third quarter to become the world's fourth largest cell-phone maker for the first time, according to data from the companies.

The company grabbed a 4.3 percent share of the global cell-phone market during the three months from July to September on shipments of 14.1 million handsets. Compared to the same period of 2009, the figure represents an almost doubling of shipments by Apple.

Nokia remained the overall leader with shipments of 110.4 million units and Samsung claimed second place with shipments of 71.4 million units. LG Electronics was third with shipments of 28.4 million units.

"LG lost ground due to a weak smartphone portfolio, while Nokia suffered component shortages that constrained its low-end handset volumes by an estimated several million units," said Neil Mawston, director at Strategy Analytics, in a statement. The company said the gap between Nokia and Samsung was the closest it has ever been in the third quarter.

BlackBerry-maker Research in Motion was pushed down a notch to fifth place by Apple's strong showing. RIM shipped 12.4 million handsets during the period.

The global cell phone market totalled 327 million units during the third quarter, according to an estimate by Strategy Analytics.

During a recent conference call with analysts, Apple CEO Steve Jobs said he doesn't see RIM jumping past Apple in the coming quarters.

"We've now passed RIM. And I don't see them catching up with us in the foreseeable future," said Jobs. They must move beyond their area of strength and comfort, into the unfamiliar territory of trying to become a software platform company.

Apple was buoyed by the launch of the iPhone 4, which launched in the U.S., U.K., France, Germany and Japan a week before the quarter began. During the three months it was rolled out through much of the world, finally hitting China at the end of the quarter on Sept. 25.

The company's previous cell phone, the iPhone 3GS, is still on sale and helping Apple's shipment numbers.

RIM's position in the top five is in danger from a handful of companies, said Strategy Analytics. There are a large number of second tier players within touching distance of the ranking, including Sony Ericsson, which was in the top five until recently, ZTE, Motorola, Huawei and Alcatel.

Martyn Williams covers Japan and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Martyn on Twitter at @martyn_williams. Martyn's e-mail address is martyn_williams@idg.com

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