Samsung "Shipments" and $18 per Unit to MSFT

It's becoming clear that "shipments" is a bogus metric that obscures whether products are actually selling to consumers. Accordingly it shouldn't be used to measure market share. Sales to consumer-end users is really the only valid market-share metric. Yet IDC, Strategy Analytics, Canalys and others persist in reporting "shipments." These numbers are easier to measure and capture than actual sales.

But OEMs can also manipulate the perception of market share by reporting "shipments." For example Samsung misrepresented their tablet sales by reporting "shipments." So did RIM. And Microsoft also did this early on with Windows Phone "shipments" to show momentum that had yet to really develop. And there are many other such examples. 

It fair to say that in many cases there is a positive correlation between shipments and sales for popular products. However as the examples above suggest it's not always true. Samsung claimed 1 million Galaxy Tab (7") shipped but popular reports put actual sales at well below 100,000 units. 

One of the big stories today is Samsung becoming the world's top smartphone vendor. That may well be true; Samsung has had enormous success with Android and it's the leading Android OEM in North America and now globally. According to numbers released by Strategy Analytics, Samsung shipped nearly 28 million handsets in Q3 vs. 17 million for the iPhone.

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The only problem is that's an "apples to oranges" comparison. Apple actually sold 17+ million iPhones in the quarter (vs. shipped). Recently Strategy Analytics, using the same "shipped" methodology, incorrectly estimated tablet market share.

As tablet OEMs release their dismal numbers we're seeing just how off "shipments" can be as an indicator of true penetration. Accordingly hardware tracking firms should shift to a consumer-sales metric rather than the more manipulable and opaque "shipped" concept.

Having said all that I don't doubt that Samsung is selling millions of smartphones and may indeed have taken the top spot from Apple. We just don't know how many the company actually sold. 

Another piece of interesting information related to Samsung Android sales involves the amount of patent-licensing fees that may be changing hands. I was told (caveat: double hearsay) that Samsung is now paying Microsoft $18 per Android handset in IP licensing fees. This is in contrast to the widely reported $15 figure. Eighteen dollars is apparently the same amount that HTC pays, according to the same source, while other Android vendors are paying less.

I don't know if all this is accurate information, but I was surprised by the relatively high $18 per handset figure. This is pretty close to what I understand Microsoft charges for its own Windows Phone license. As a colleague of mine remarked, "this is the best business model I can imagine." And if we assume that about 85% of Samsung's smartphone "shipments" are Android handsets (that may be conservative) and Microsoft is getting $18 per unit that means the company would have made approximately $414 million in Q3 on Samsung Android handsets alone. Impressive.