Just how many smartphones has Samsung recently sold worldwide?
For your typical smartphone owners, the better answer might be, "Who cares?" But the technological world is often fascinated with success: Who has the biggest hard drive, the fastest chip, the newest smartphone, the prettiest screen. Unfortunately for followers of the mobile markets, Samsung just doesn't want to play along.
Or, as IHS iSuppli analyst Wayne Lam describes it to the Associated Press, attempting to discern just how many smartphones Samsung sells is like "using compasses instead of GPS."
While most analysts agree that Samsung sold the most phones, period, in the first quarter of this year, the estimates for just how many smartphones Samsung sold vary wildly — so much so that it's difficult to conclusively state a champion of the smartphone market.
As we previously reported, IHS iSuppli put Samsung's total smartphone shipments at 32 million — three million behind Apple, we note. Analysts over at Strategy Analytics gave Samsung 12.5 million more shipments to a total of 44.5 million, placing Samsung on top of both Apple and Nokia.
That's quite a gap in estimates. And it doesn't get any easier once you start to take a closer look at the exact terminology being used in these evaluations. Apple, for example, reported that it had sold 35.1 million iPhones in its most recent quarter. They key word in that sentence being "sold," in that every phone within Apple's 35.1 million count supposedly made it into the hands of an actual customer.
For Samsung, however, the metric being reported is smartphones shipped. That's a calculation that only considers how many smartphones were sent to distributors. Analysts aren't estimating, nor is Samsung revealing, the actual sales count for the company's smartphones.
So what is Samsung talking about in its quarterly sales figures? Vagueness, if anything. According to the Associated Press, Samsung noted in its most recent quarterly report that its overall phone sales were down about 10 percent from fourth quarter figures — whatever those are — and that the company's smartphone sales remain roughly the same percentage of this total.
And this isn't the first time Samsung's confused industry-watchers. The company reported in 2011 that its third-quarter smartphone sales were a "300 percent" increase versus the same time period the year prior. Is that a quadrupling? A tripling? And just how much do these discrepancies in descriptions – when tracked across multiple years' worth of data – pile on to create the wildly disparate estimates we see today?