China Beats U.S. In Q3, Becomes Largest Smartphone Market By Volume

While smartphone adoption continues to pick up steam here in the U.S., new research from Strategy Analytics shows that China is hungrier for smartphones than we are. For the first time ever, China has pulled ahead of the United States in terms of the number of smartphones shipped.

Those expecting a huge blowout may be a bit disappointed by the results: while 23 million smartphones were shipped in the United States during Q3 2011, China squeeked by with nearly 24 million units sold. With that, China has become the world’s largest smartphone market by volume. Given that China has the most cell phone users in the world, it may not come as a huge shock, but companies looking to break into the mobile space have yet another reason to consider China carefully.

Strategy Analytics also took a look at the manufacturer break down, and for the most part the winners are who you would expect. The two top vendors in the United States are HTC and Apple, who together account for almost half of all smartphones sold in the country during Q3. Meanwhile in China, Nokia and Samsung take the top two spots, with each company accounting for 28.5% and 17.6% of the market respectively.

Nokia in particular had a good quarter in China, as they shipped more units (6.8 million) than anyone else. The big question for Nokia is whether or not that momentum will continue once they complete their transition to Windows Phone. Microsoft has been eyeing the Chinese market for a while now, and their forthcoming Tango version of Windows Phone is reportedly meant to break into China and other emerging markets.

China’s smartphone boom also helps explain why their app downloads have gone through the roof; recent data from Flurry indicates that China is also experiencing a huge uptick in the number of apps downloaded, although the existence of multiple independent app stores certainly doesn’t hurt.

Manufacturer market share is great, but what I’d really like to see is a breakdown of mobile OS usage. Strategy Analytics Director Tom Kang notes that the Chinese smartphone surge is thanks in large part to “the aggressive subsidizing by operators of high-end models like the Apple iPhone, and an emerging wave of low-cost Android models from local Chinese brands such as ZTE.” I would imagine that those low-end Android devices are beginning to supplant the feature phone as the device of choice for first-time users, but Apple’s smartphones enjoys considerable popularity (even if many of them are being used unofficially).