Today in Apple history: Apple unseats Nokia as top smartphone vendor

Today in Apple history: Apple unseats Nokia as top smartphone vendor


Remember when Nokia was on top of the world?
Photo: Killian Bell/Cult of Mac

July 21: Today in Apple history: Apple unseats Nokia as top smartphone vendor July 21, 2011: Apple officially passes Nokia to become the world’s top smartphone vendor.

It’s a major milestone for Apple, which launched the iPhone just four years earlier. For Nokia, the Finnish company that dominated the cellphone market during the 1990s and early 2000s, it marks the end of an era.

Apple passes Nokia as top smartphone seller

The triumph of the iPhone over Nokia’s mobile phones involved the seemingly unstoppable rise of Apple, as well as a sharp drop in shipments by Nokia. For the financial quarter ending in July 2011, Apple sold 20.3 million iPhones, compared to Nokia’s 16.7 million.

Nokia remained the world’s largest phone-maker by volume (taking into account non-smartphones), but it was clear that a tipping point had been reached. By this time, Apple was selling its enormously successful iPhone 4. And with more countries adopting smartphones, the company’s future looked quite bright.

However, Apple also faced challenges from Android devices. Upstart South Korean smartphone-maker Samsung also overtook Nokia as a result of the Finnish company’s fall from grace. Still, Samsung sold only half the number of phones Apple did at the time.

Nokia: From hot phone to ‘burning platform’

A sharp decline by Nokia puts Apple on top.
A sharp decline by Nokia puts Apple on top.
Image: Asymco

Fifteen years earlier, Nokia actually created the smartphone market with its Communicator phone series. Those 1996 devices introduced features like color displays, web browsing and the Symbian operating system.

Nonetheless, Nokia’s 2011-era phones ultimately proved uninspiring. In February 2011, Nokia’s new CEO Stephen Elop warned staff, “We are standing on a burning platform.”

The company cut 4,000 jobs worldwide, with another 4,000 to follow in 2012. In addition, Nokia doubled down on its Microsoft partnership, with the goal of replacing Symbian with the software for Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7. Microsoft ultimately purchased Nokia’s mobile division in 2013.

Apple overtakes Nokia: Here's how profits broke down that quarter.
Here’s how profits broke down that quarter.
Image: Asymco

Today, Nokia still holds records for the top-selling phone models of all time. The candy-bar-style Nokia 1100, which went on sale in 2003, remains the bestselling mobile phone in history, with more than 250 million purchased.

These days, the company is nothing but a bit player on the smartphone scene, though. You can still buy Nokia smartphones, but they’re made by HMD Global, which licenses the Nokia name.

The iPhone, on the other hand, is … well, the iPhone.

Did you own a Nokia mobile phone back in the day? When did you realize the iPhone would dominate the world? Leave your comments below.


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