State of the industry in Q3: Samsung a success story, LG and RIM losing ground

State of the industry in Q3: Samsung a success story, LG and RIM losing ground
Now that all the third quarter reporting is behind us, we take our usual look at the 8 prominent cell phone makers to check how they did. It was one to remember, and saw many twists and turns that will shape the future of the mobile industry.

Some of the trends that appeared in Q2, like Samsung’s smartphone ascent, stayed, and others, like Nokia’s and Motorola's losses, were partly reversed.

The biggest losers were LG and RIM, but let’s start with the profit-makers:


Co-founder and inspirational leader Steve Jobs stepped down as CEO and was replaced by Tim Cook. The stock didn’t flinch after the news, as his fragile health condition was largely baked into the share price. Apple missed the analysts' earnings expectations on people waiting it out for the new iPhone, but took home over $5 billion of operating profit from the iPhone line alone, which, despite less than the $6 billion last quarter, is more than all the rest of the industry combined.

ASP remained largely the same, but the profit margin increased slightly due to a dip in both fixed and variable costs to get the iPhone 4 to doorsteps. That explains somewhat the smaller dip in profits, despite selling 15% fewer phones than in the previous quarter

The trend of Greater China becoming a very important market for Apple carried over from Q2, and the region accounted for 16% of its total revenue, becoming the second most important country for Apple's products, so it's something to keep an eye on for future quarters.


Samsung started emerging as the industry’s next darling in Q2, when together with Apple passed Nokia in smartphone sales, and announced its highest operating margin in years. In Q3 this trend deepened, and Samsung became the largest smartphone producer in the world by volume, surpassing Apple.

What’s even more important is that its profit margin passed HTC’s second place for the first time, and, at nearly 17%, indicates a well thought-out product mix. This success was undoubtedly due to high-margin handsets like the Samsung Galaxy S II selling in droves. Unique propositions like the Super AMOLED Plus display and the Exynos chip, both made in-house, keep production costs in check. The final result is over $2 billion in profits from the mobile business, which is more than a third improvement compared to the previous quarter, and second only to Apple.
The company also standardized the naming scheme for its smartphones, and the first handsets with the new titling like the Omnia W, Galaxy R or Galaxy M Pro, started rolling down the conveyor belt.

With the Galaxy S II versions hitting the major US carriers full bore for the holiday season, and unique handsets like the Samsung Galaxy Nexus with Android Ice Cream Sandwich, we expect the upwards trend of Samsung to continue in Q4, for which the company issued an upbeat guidance as well.


As usual recently, Taiwan's most valuable brand performed admirably in Q3, carried on the wings of its high-margin handsets like the HTC Sensation 4G. HTC is now ahead of RIM in profits for the first time, and its margins also kept stable, making it the third manufacturer to actually make money from its mobile business.

The company spent north of $300 million to invest in the Beats by Dre brand, and the resulting handsets with Beats Audio, like the HTC Sensation XE, the HTC Sensation XL and the HTC Rezound are sure to contribute for its holiday performance. Still, HTC issued a lower guidance for its Q4 sales, citing a very competitive environment, so it will be interesting to follow up if this caution will materialize in the holiday season.

What caught our attention in the press release is also the fact that China exploded 9 times for HTC as far as shipped units goes, marked by the huge success of entry-level Android handsets like the HTC Wildfire S.


After resting on its laurels for about a year, RIM staged the biggest launch in its history, with the first BlackBerry OS 7 handsets scheduled to appear on 225 carriers worldwide.Unfortunately the new phones were announced the last month of the second quarter in RIM's fiscal year, which ended in August, so the sales of new devices like the BlackBerry Torch 9850/9860 haven't contributed much to the bottomline in RIM's quarterly report.

For the June-August quarter RIM reported revenue of $4.2 billion and income before taxes of $0.414 billion (net income was $0.329 billion), or 9.8% margin, with the last two numbers quite below the average expectations.

The ASP was higher than last quarter, but the profit margin from this average selling price has plunged, indicating that RIM needs to work further on costs. Co-CEO Jim Balsillie remained optimistic for the current quarter, citing strong sell-through interest in the new BlackBerries with OS 7. RIM is now the fourth most profitable company in the industry, a far cry from the second place it held just two quarters ago.


Nokia lost money overall, but not as much as analysts expected, and if we strictly look at its cell phone business it managed to eke minimal profits. This, however, was achieved by slashing prices of its Symbian handsets across the board, sometimes up to 20%, which helped drive volume up and keep the unit sales in check, preserving Nokia's position of the largest cell phone maker by volume.

This strategy helped stave off the disaster that followed in Q2, after CEO Stephen Elop announced it will adopt Windows Phone as a primary platform, and sales of Symbian handsets plunged.

Nokia launched a number of handsets with Symbian Belle. Handsets like the Nokia 701 with the brightest screen out there keep the ball rolling until its first Windows Phone devices like the Lumia 800 go on sale this quarter. Nokia is planning the biggest marketing campaign in its history for the new Windows Phones, though, so the Q4 results might be affected by the costs associated with that.

Sony Ericsson

Sony Ericsson managed to eke small profits in Q2, but last quarter its earnings were almost flat. The company mostly rode on handsets announced in the beginning of the year, like the Xperia arc, but also came out with interesting additions to its lineup like the Xperia active rugged handset, and the compact Sony Ericsson Xperia ray, which was reviewed favorably by most.

It's still lagging behind in the flagship department, though - a dual-core phone with HD screen from the company is not expected in 2011, so the holiday quarter probably won't see much difference in financial results. Sony recently announced it will buy Ericsson's stake in the venture, becoming eventually just Sony, so the associated $1.5 billion expenses should further weigh on costs.


The company held itself pretty well in Q3, issuing a smaller loss, but that was not the real story with Motorola in Q3. Google made a surprise announcement it is buying Motorola Mobility for $12.5 billion, which sent the share price soaring, and Android manufacturers worrying about
preferential treatments towards Motorola, which Googlers are trying to dissuade at every suitable occasion.

On the handset front we finally saw the arrival of the first dual-core phone with LTE connectivity – the DROID BIONIC, which no doubt contributed to the Q3 financials with its hefty $299 starting price tag on Verizon.

Motorola seems to also be reclaiming its manufacturing mojo this quarter with handsets like the DROID RAZR, which, besides the cult branding, is also the thinnest LTE phone out there, built with materials like Kevlar. It should boost holiday sales, but still, all eyes are on the Google deal, and what Motorola will become after it's done and dusted.


LG didn't perform well in Q3, no matter how you slice it. Its quarterly loss wasn't terrible, but the operating margin went further in the negative territory, which is a pretty bad sign.

The third largest cell phone maker just doesn't seem to be able to change customers' perceptions about its products. And that's despite the fact that it was the first to offer a dual-core phone this year, the first with a 3D-capable handset and had the phone with the brightest screen on the market for quite a while.

There are interesting things on sale now from LG, like the first phone that came with a true HD screen – the 4.5” Optimus LTE, but its yet limited availability means it's unlikely to affect the profit margins. Such hardware achievements didn't translate into profits so far for LG, and Q4 could see more of the same.


To wrap up we'd say that in Q3 we had one of the most interesting quarters in the mobile industry, with the changes at Apple's helm, and Google acquiring Motorola.

Last quarter can therefore be considered as the end of an era, and Q4 the beginning of new battles, considering the launch of the Nokia Windows Phones. What will the holiday season hold for the eight mobile industry contenders is therefore a mystery, but rest assured we will follow up with a similar piece when the dust settles, and everyone reports early next year.



1. goflet

Posts: 50; Member since: Oct 31, 2011

how can a company only has %4 market share make the most profit?? other companies has to ask themselves this question

3. drahmad

Posts: 480; Member since: Aug 20, 2011

in simple 3 steps 1. make urself an american comapny 2. make some piece of a crap 3. sell it for a hell of money Thats it. You have done it.

5. remixfa

Posts: 14605; Member since: Dec 19, 2008

you make a phone out of cheap parts, advertise it as premium.. spend a bundle in slick advertising.. make it not do much, but not do much well, and sell it as a mass market device. Apple's profit margin on the i4s is 70%. The average profit margin of a company is between 7-15% just to give you an idea.

9. Droid_X_Doug

Posts: 5993; Member since: Dec 22, 2010

You may be confusing gross with net on the profit statement. Even Apple does not net out 70%. The 7 to 15% is generally net profits after everything is said and done. 7 to 15% gross profit isn't going to pay the bills.

13. remixfa

Posts: 14605; Member since: Dec 19, 2008

lol, droid, the estimate gross for parts is about 70% profit, if you want to get technical. Put it in perspective, Samsung nets around 30% or so net for parts, on its most expensive phones. Samsung also puts in billions more a year to research compared with apple. Apple makes so much because its margins are among the highest in the WORLD. To twist an old wendy's slogan. With Apple, you dont get more.. you just pay more.

12. roscuthiii

Posts: 2383; Member since: Jul 18, 2010

Where do you get this 4% from? Are you talking global mobile phone market in total, regardless of phone type? Because Apple has closer to 20% of the smartphone market which is where the money is made. Add in the rest of the iOS device line-up (like tablets where iPad has about all of the market share), and their high profit margin because some people will pay almost any price for a product with a picture of a bitten fruit coupled with a lower case "i" and it's pretty easy to see where the profit comes from.

16. douglasman100

Posts: 24; Member since: Aug 27, 2011

There an american company whos products are all produce by a company called Foxconn who makes products for alot of compainies but that are korean, japanese, or chinese companies not american. foxconn hires kids and adults to work for horible pays and since people got payed so horribly payed people killed them selves because then there family would be better off with all of the money foxconn gave them. it was so common that foxconn told people if they kill them selves they wont get any money. so yeah they spend 100 on a phone sell it for 600 dollars. does that answer your question ;)

2. drahmad

Posts: 480; Member since: Aug 20, 2011

LG is hanging in all those graphs

4. Alantef

Posts: 288; Member since: Sep 14, 2011

lesson should have been....STOP making s**tty phones....the "new" lg mytouch phones look like crap in all seriousness the LG revolution is now a metro pcs phone for 250 cheaper than the Verizon lte version with NO contract.....lg can do better but RIM is dead....sorry

6. snowgator

Posts: 3621; Member since: Jan 19, 2011

Motorola mobile will be a different company due to Google, Sony will be a different company being on it's own, and Nokia will be a completely corporate model. Throw Q's 3 & 4 of this year out the window on them. 2012 will be better indicators on those three. Apple, HTC and Samsung are as sure of a thing as there is in mobile right now. Bet against those three only if your purpose is to lose money. RIM and LG? Tough road ahead for those two. LG will be okay, but only due to volumn sold unless they kick it into high gear. RIM just feels like a fading Boxing great trying to grind out one more championship fight when the body just doesn't have it in 'em .....

7. Sniggly

Posts: 7305; Member since: Dec 05, 2009

And once again a Phonearena author takes a chance to dig at the Motorola Google deal and act like manufacturers are worried about preferential treatment. THEY'RE NOT. They have not expressed any such sentiments AT ALL ANYWHERE. Stop with the bulls**t and reporting falsehoods.

8. bbblader

Posts: 590; Member since: Oct 24, 2011

I see why Nokia are better than Samsung and HTC at Mobile Industry share It's simple Samsung and HTC forgot about normal people phones they're aiming for the most expencive,good,dual-core,and all the stuff you dont need but use Nokia still make cheap normal phones like the Nokia Asha 200 201 300 303 thats why Nokia will keep more Mobile Indrustry share like the jump of 3% when Samsung only did 2% jump

10. Droid_X_Doug

Posts: 5993; Member since: Dec 22, 2010

I suspect the 4Q results will show RIM continuing to head southward. If the rumor about problems with the QNX roll-out to handsets is true, it is pretty much curtains for RIM. Sure, they can hang on to whatever they can, but it will still be a downward spiral.

11. jamrockjones

Posts: 345; Member since: Oct 26, 2011

Hope the Optimus LTE does well! Specs look pretty sweet.

14. Leodrade

Posts: 87; Member since: Aug 26, 2011

Lg has a still has a chance If they release a Optimus 4x with Tegra 3 and with a AH-IPS HD screen in Q1 2012 i am sold

15. lubba

Posts: 1313; Member since: Jan 17, 2011

Super specs don't add up to a good phone. Look at PA review of HTC Vivid and Samsung skeyrocket. In part, its establishment. For example, iphone, SG2, and HTC evo line. Other things to include are hardware design and OS differentiation. Motorola lacks the latter and LG lacks all.

17. saiful10

Posts: 47; Member since: Nov 13, 2011

simply its nice........

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