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Nokia still world’s largest handset maker

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For the last few years Finland’s Nokia has been roundly criticized for failing to respond to the Apple iPhone and the explosion of consumer demand for smartphones, but the company doesn’t seem to be having much trouble holding on to its core strengths. According to new figures from IDC, Nokia remains far and away the largest manufacturer of mobile phones on the planet, commanding some 29.2 percent of the global market during the first quarter of 2011. That number actually represents an increase of 0.6 percent compared to the first quarter of 2010—good news for a company that’s widely perceived to be in a nosedive.

IDC’s figures show Nokia shipping 108.5 million handsets during the first quarter of 2011. In comparison, rival Samsung managed to ship some 70 million handsets, to account for 18.8 percent of the worldwide market. But past Nokia and Samsung, share figures drop quickly: LG managed a third-place ranking with 24.5 million units shipped to account for a 6.6 share of the global market, and—surprisingly—Apple came in fourth, shipping 18.7 million iPhones during the first quarter of the year to account for an overall 5 percent share of the global market. China’s ZTE came in fifth, shipping 15.1 million units during the quarter for a 4.1 percent share of the global market.

Nokia has laid out an all-or-nothing plan to shift its entire phone line to Microsoft’s Windows Phone platform—the company just concluded the details of the deal last month, and announced it would be saying goodbye to some 7,000 employees and putting its existing Symbian platform out to pasture with Accenture. Until its Windows Phone platform materializes—and gains traction in the marketplace—Nokia will have to rely on its existing Symbian lineup. Although the company is still far and away the largest maker of mobile devices, most of those devices are low-margin, entry-level phones sold into developing markets—and in developing economies it’s facing increased competition from the likes of ZTE, which has managed to capture a significant share with dual-SIM phones that can work with multiple operators.

In contrast, Samsung’s shipments for the first quarter represent a record unit volume, meaning Samsung is slowly closing in on Nokia and is pulling away from rivals like LG, and—unlike Nokia—it already has a strong foot in the smartphone camp with a wide range of Android devices—the company is aiming to ship 50 million smartphones this year.

Apple’s number four position on IDC’s chart is remarkable for two reasons. First, Apple only makes one phone at a time—currently the iPhone 4—rather than a broad line of devices catering to different customer segments. Second, Apple showed the highest growth rate of any of the worldwide phone makers—a figure reflected in the company’s blowout financial results for its most recent quarter. The iPhone is now available in 90 countries from over 180 different carriers.