The specter of a smartphone slow-down haunts the industry

Smartphone Sales Analysis

BlackBerry missed BB10 shipment expectations by more than 20%. HTC missed profit expectations by more than 30%. Even Samsung missed profit expectations by 10%. This is starting to look ominous, even though each company has its own reasons for soggy spring numbers. Of course, Samsung’s profit miss is the biggest news item here — the company had lulled investors into complacency by beating expectations even during quarters when it did not have a brand new flagship phone in its product range. During the second quarter this year, Samsung had a brand new Galaxy S4 in its arsenal ramping up faster than any of its previous high-end phones, and its profit still missed expectations. HTC also had a brand new, well-reviewed model out during the spring quarter.

One likely problem here is that Samsung’s massive marketing spending has started eating into its profitability; Galaxy S4 channel sales hit 20 million units in record time partly because Samsung is spending so heavily to advertise it. This marketing blitz is damaging smaller vendors like BlackBerry and HTC, blighting their spring product launches.

The overall growth slowdown in demand is now looking like a real threat to phone vendors. IDC shocked the industry in June by declaring that European smartphone growth had plunged to just 12% during Q1 2013. Europe still makes up more than 20% of global high-end phone sales, so this is putting a damper on the entire industry. There is obviously now concern that European smartphone growth may have slipped further during the spring quarter.

Nokia and Apple’s numbers for the spring quarter are going to be scrutinized intensely. Nokia’s cheap 500-series Lumia phones may have dodged the high-end slowdown, but there is reason to suspect that the 900-series tanked during the spring quarter, dragging down the ASP of Nokia’s smartphone unit. Apple was already struggling with sluggish volume growth of its borderline boring iPhone 5 during the March quarter.

The iPhone sales figure in the June quarter is going to tell us a lot about the state of the high-end smartphone market — did the Galaxy S 4 launch suck the oxygen out of the crowded room?

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