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Apple and RIM in Striking Distance of Top 5 Handset Vendors

With all the attention everyone puts on smartphones -- and for good reason, given their selling prices, profitability, and consumer appeal -- it continues to be too easy to forget how small a part of the market they are. According to at least one current report from ABIresearch, the fourth quarter of 2009 saw 336.6 million handsets ship. But when you look at the numbers, it's clear that RIM (RIM) and Apple (AAPL) are close to breaking into the top five vendor slots.

Last quarter, RIM and Apple together sold about 19 million units, or about 5.6 percent of the market. Here are the top five vendors and their market share according to ABI:

  • Nokia -- 37.7 percent
  • Samsung -- 20.5 percent
  • LG -- 10.1 percent
  • Sony-Ericsson -- 4.3 percent
  • Motorola (MOTO) -- 3.6 percent
Neither RIM nor Apple sold enough handsets to crack that ranking. But keep in mind that at 3.6 percent, Motorola sold 12 million. It wouldn't be surprising to see either RIM or Apple displace Motorola within the next nine months. That would be the first time that a manufacturer concentrating only on smartphones was able to do so. Realize that all of the vendors mentioned make higher end phones, so the move is clear.

That raises a different question. As a greater number of people have smart phones, what will happen to netbook and even laptop sales? I suspect more people will find that they simply don't need them. Maybe that will open more room for tablets, whether from Apple or others, whose major feature is not synching to a desktop, but working in concert with a smartphone.