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Apple’s big headache in emerging markets

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Apple shares surge past $600 for the first time since 2012
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Apple shares surge past $600 for the first time since 2012

The latest Kantar Worldpanel market share numbers from the quarter ending in early September 2012 demonstrate formidable Android momentum in emerging markets. This was a three month stretch when the aging iPhone 4S resulted in dull sales in July and August, but Kantar is comparing Apple’s (AAPL) performance to a similar period in 2011, so the market share comparisons are valid.

Though Kantar chooses to reveal details for only Mexico and Brazil, the numbers dovetail with recent global statistics published by Appannie, Apple and Google. The wave of cheap Android devices from Samsung (005930), LG (066570), Motorola, Huawei and ZTE are driving a market share surge for the Android OS. In Mexico, Android’s share of the smartphone market has zoomed from 19% to 37% in a year. In Brazil it’s gone from 20% to 47%.

At the same time, iOS market share grew from 2% to 6.2% in Brazil, but actually declined from 8.6% to 4.7% in Mexico. Android vendors have recently gone on a price cutting binge in Latin America, slashing prices of smartphones to well below 300 reals in Brazil. The iPhone pricing in Brazil levitates around 2’000-3’000 reals. A subsidized model coming bundled with an expensive monthly plan can be had for 1’200 reals.

Apple might need to make some hard choices about emerging market product pricing very soon or face the prospect of Samsung building a 3-to-1 or 4-to-1 volume advantage in the global smartphone race. Samsung’s massive 50 million unit quarterly smartphone unit volume is already giving it an advantage in component sourcing and economies of scale will benefit Samsung more each quarter it extends its global lead.

And Apple is not only struggling in emerging markets: Kantar portrays the company’s market share diving from 22% to 11% in Germany, the most important mobile market in Europe. The strong specs of Samsung Galaxy S III have really resonated with engineering-obsessed German consumers. At the same time, the dirt-cheap Chinese Android models are a hit among young European consumers plagued with economic uncertainty. Android’s massive 84% share in Spain is likely a result of the unemployment levels hitting 25% and consumers shifting to cheapest possible options across a variety of products.

The Kantar numbers are interesting on many levels and they show Windows Phone market share surpassing Blackberry in Mexico and Italy by surprising margins. Another interesting factoid is that while RIM’s market share crashed below 1% in Germany it actually rose sharply in Brazil, up 4.1% from 2.1%. Perhaps the scariest RIM plunge comes from the U.K., where its share dived from 23% to 11% in a year.

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