smartphone researchSamsung will supplant Nokia as the world’s top cellphone maker in 2012, the first time in 14 years Nokia won’t top the global ranks of cellphone manufacturers, according to a report from the IHS iSuppli Mobile and Wireless Communications Service.

Performance in the smartphone segment told the tale and made all the difference for mobile handset manufacturers in 2012, according to IHS iSuppli. “The competitive reality of the cellphone market in 2012 was ‘live by the smartphone, die by the smartphone,” commented Wayne Lam, senior analyst for wireless communications.

“Smartphones represent the fastest-growing segment of the cellphone market—and will account for nearly half of all wireless handset shipments for all of 2012. Samsung’s successes and Nokia’s struggles in the cellphone market this year were determined entirely by the two companies’ divergent fortunes in the smartphone sector.”

Looking at the smartphone market overall, IHS projects global smartphone shipments will rise 35.5% this year, while total cellphone shipments will rise approximately 1%. Rapid growth of smartphone shipments will drive penetration up to 47% in 2012 from 35% in 2011, IHS iSuppli says.

Breaking its data out by manufacturer, Samsung will end 2012 with a 29% share of the overall global cellphone market, 5 points up from 2011. Nokia’s, in contrast, will drop 6 points to 24%. Third-ranked Apple will gain 3 market share points to 10%, according to IHS iSuppli. Rounding out the top 5 will be ZTE with a 6% market share, unchanged from a year ago, and LG, which will drop two market share points with a 4% share.

2012 will mark the first year since 1998 Nokia’s doesn’t come out on top of the annual ranking of cellphone shipments, according to IHS iSuppli. “Samsung’s success has been built on its ‘fast follower’ strategy for design and manufacturing,” IHS iSuppli says. “The company produces dozens of new smartphone models every year that address all segments of the market, from the high end to the low end. Samsung monitors the big trends in smartphone design, user needs and unmet market opportunities, then creates products to fit those markets quickly and efficiently.”

2012 has proven to be a tumultuous one for Nokia, however. The long reigning king of the cellphone market, “Finnish-based Nokia is mired in transitioning its smartphone line to the Windows operating system, resulting in declining shipments for the company. Sales of the company’s older Symbian-based phones have plunged, while its new Microsoft Windows 7-based handsets haven’t been able to make up for the loss so far,” IHS iSuppli analysts commented.

Focusing in on the global smartphone market, Samsung will gain 8 market share points to lead all competitors with a 28% market share. Apple will gain a point to 20%, while Nokia will see its smartphone market share plunge from 16% in 2011 to 5% in 2012 to rank third. HTC will drop 4 market share points to 5%, while RIM’s smartphone market share will plunge from 11% in 2011 to 5% in 2012.

Just one percentage point separated Nokia and Samsung in smartphone market share in 2011, IHS iSuppli notes. Their divergent fortunes this year have not only seen Samsung establish a clear lead over Nokia, but over Apple as well. “Entering the 2012 year, Samsung moved decisively ahead of Apple with a wide range of Android smartphone offerings. Samsung made significant gains in both the high end as well as the low-cost market with its Galaxy line of smartphones. This diversified market approach has allowed Samsung to address a larger target for its phones than Apple’s limited premium iPhone line.”

Hence, 2012 will end with a “Samsung-Apple duopoly [that] represents the dominant force in the smartphone market, with the two companies accounting for 49 percent of shipments in 2012, up from 39 percent in 2011.”

The momentum driving smartphone penetration higher will continue into 2012, according to IHS iSuppli, with smartphones becoming the “majority among all phone segments, at 56%,” marking “a significant tipping point in the mobile handset market,” the market research firm’s analysts conclude.