Samsung may have shipped 35M smartphones in Q4 2011, posts record profit. HTC’s profit down

Samsung may have shipped 35 million smartphones in the fourth quarter of last year (October to December), according to forecasts quoted by Reuters. That would be a record for the Korean company, and in fact would be the biggest number of smartphones shipped in a single quarter by any company ever. At least before we find out how Apple has done. The Californian company may just report more sales, though it’s unlikely.

The 35 million figure is 25% larger than the 28 million smartphones Samsung shipped in the third quarter of 2011. Samsung’s numbers just keep growing and growing, certainly helped by its Android lineup, but also possibly by the lower-priced devices running Bada, the in-house smartphone OS.

Samsung is now on the way to becoming the new Nokia, so to speak, and if the momentum holds, it may just be the biggest phone maker in the world this year. It already is the biggest smartphone maker in the world, a title it gained in Q3 2011 and is likely to keep for Q4.

Samsung’s strategy of flooding the market with similar-looking handsets at all possible price points is in fact the exact same strategy that allowed Nokia to keep its No.1 position for so long (until its devices simply became too uncool).

Samsung has reported a record profit level, although it’s a per-group number, and not related just to the phone business. 5.2 trillion won, or $4.5 billion was its operating profit, beating analysts’ estimates of 4.7 trillion won.

While Samsung just keeps on growing, HTC’s situation is the exact opposite. We’ve told you before how its device sales crashed in November, and now we’re getting the first numbers that back up the impact of that in its bottom line.

The Taiwanese company is expected to have sold just 10 million smartphones in Q4 2011, according to analysts quoted by Bloomberg. That’s less than the 13.2 million it managed to sell in the third quarter. What’s even worse, shipments this quarter are expected to reach just 8.5 million.

At a time when the entire smartphone market is growing, HTC is falling. Its profit took a plunge of 26% in Q4, compared to Q4 2010. It’s in fact the first time in two years when HTC’s profit has been down. Revenue fell 2.5% year-on-year, and the operating margin is now just 12.8%, the lowest in at least three years.

If you’re wondering what caused HTC’s decline, look no further than a few paragraphs above in this post. That’s right, Samsung, along with Apple, are the main ‘culprits’ here. HTC has seen increased competitive pressure from both companies, and it simply didn’t deliver an exciting product portfolio this year.

It wasn’t perceived to lead in hardware specifications anymore, and its Android software overlay, Sense UI, is getting a bit old (and still basically looks the same). Next year, the company promises to focus on less, but better devices. And that focus may just bring it back on the growth track. However, that can’t happen before Q2, and perhaps even Q3, for the simple fact of how the mobile world works. The new high-end HTC offerings will undoubtedly be showcased either next week at CES, or next month at MWC, but from that point on it usually takes a few months for products to reach stores.

So if HTC is a new casualty of the smartphone war(s), we’ll only be able to conclusively say after the third quarter of next year. Until then, anything is possible.

Note: this article has been edited to more accurately reflect the fact that both Samsung’s and HTC’s sales numbers for Q4 2011 represent forecasts made by analysts, and not official figures.

Author: Vlad Bobleanta

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