Apple beats Nokia for world’s most profitable handset-maker

Nokia (NYSE:NOK) may still claim the largest global market share, but Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) has overtaken it as the world’s most profitable handset vendor in the third quarter of 2009, according to Strategy Analytics. The one-handset wonder pushed Nokia into the no. 2 slot, as Nokia’s margins were hit hard by both the economic downturn and a stagnant presence in the U.S.

The firm estimates that Apple’s iPhone operating profit came in at $1.6 billion in Q3, while Nokia recorded only $1.1 billion in operating profit. “With strong volumes, high wholesale prices and tight cost controls, the PC vendor has successfully broken into the mobile phone market in just two years,” said analyst Alex Spektor in the research note.

It is not all bad news for Nokia. Even with falling profits, it managed to capture 37.9% market share and ship 16.4 million handsets in the third quarter. Strategy Analytics said that focusing on the U.S., Apple’s high-profit home turf, will be the key to recovering in 2010, but that won’t be an easy fight. Nokia’s profit margin for its handset division has been shrinking during the entire 2009 global economic downturn, and the handset-maker is also facing increased pressure from Google Android devices and other new high-end smartphones planned for the rest of the year and into 2010.

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