As Samsung Electronics and Apple slug it out for domination of the smartphone market, new competition is stirring. The combined share of the worldwide smartphone market controlled by Apple and Samsung slipped to 43 per cent in the second quarter from 49 per cent a year earlier, research firm IDC reported.
Some of the companies chipping away at the leaders are familiar names that are trying comebacks, like Sony, Nokia and HTC. Others are relative newcomers, like LG of South Korea and Lenovo, ZTE and Huawei of China.
"The story is no longer Apple versus Samsung," Forrester Research analyst Bryan Wang said. "They will both face similar challenges."
Analysts say buyers are more willing to look at alternatives to Apple or Samsung because the differences among smartphones are less pronounced nowadays.
The proportion of phones running Google's Android operating system keeps rising, and technical specifications are converging. Like Samsung's Galaxy S4, a number of other phones, including Sony's Xperia Z, also include high-definition 5-inch screens. That makes price, where Chinese smartphone makers have an edge, an increasingly important selling point.
Individually, none of these companies pose a threat to the top two. Collectively, however, the next three top players showed strong growth over the past year. No.3 LG's share of worldwide smartphone sales rose from 3.7 per cent a year earlier to 5.3 per cent in the second quarter, Strategy Analytics said. No.4 ZTE rose from 3.7 per cent to 5 per cent and No.5 Huawei went from 4.2 per cent to 4.8 per cent.
IDC had a slightly different ranking, with Lenovo replacing Huawei in the top five. As recently as the first quarter of 2011, three Western companies - Apple, Nokia and BlackBerry - had topped IDC's list.
The eastward shift reflects the growth of sales in China, which has surpassed the United States to be the biggest smartphone market, and in other developing economies. Analysts say much of the impending growth will be in lower-priced smartphones, an area in which Apple is notably absent.
However, Apple and Samsung still face new challenges at the high end of the market, where their dominance has been most pronounced.
"The smartphone market is still a rising tide that is lifting many ships," IDC analyst Kevin Restivo said.
"Though Samsung and Apple are the dominant players, the market is as fragmented as ever. There is ample opportunity for smartphone vendors with differentiated offerings."