A clarion of smartphone calls rang out at the opening of the Consumer Electronics Show on Tuesday, with Apple (AAPL), AT&T (NYSE:T), Samsung and others making headlines.
Apple never attends the Las Vegas event, but Tim Cook, was in China for the second time since becoming the tech titan's CEO in 2011. He met with Industry and Information Technology Minister Miao Wei.
Apple was tight-lipped, but observers speculate that Cook may be seeking to finalize an iPhone deal with China Mobile (CHL). The world's largest wireless operator is the only one of China's three mobile giants not selling the device. Apple is working on a low-cost iPhone for China and emerging markets that would launch in the second half of 2013, DigiTimes reported.
While Cook was in China, AT&T Mobility CEO Ralph de la Vega, at CES, announced that his company had sold more than 10 million smartphones in Q4, 600,000 more than a year earlier. It was helped by sales of the Apple iPhone 5, launched in September. AT&T also credited phones based on the Google (GOOG) Android platform.
Verizon Wireless likely added a record 2.1 million net subscribers in Q4, Verizon Communications (VZ) CEO Lowell McAdams said in Vegas on Tuesday.
Subscriber gains can be mixed blessings, especially if they stem from margin-killing iPhone subsidies. AT&T shares fell 3% and Verizon 4%. Apple edged up.
Samsung is the top seller of Android smartphones and has battled Apple, taking the top spot in U.S. market share in the latest update by market tracker comScore. Samsung held 27% of the U.S. market for the three months ended Nov. 12, with Apple No. 2 at 18.5%. Those numbers are expected to shift in Apple's favor when year-end tallies are in, as IBD has reported.
Samsung had a 23% global market share in smartphones in the third quarter, while No. 2 Apple had 15.5%, according to research firm Canalys.
The South Korean electronics giant issued preliminary fourth-quarter results Tuesday, estimating that operating profit jumped 89% from Q4 2011 to $8.3 billion.
Samsung's success is one reason for Apple's reported plan for a $200-$250 "iPhone Mini" in China, where it is losing ground to cheaper Android handsets.
Back at CES, Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S) announced with Microsoft (MSFT) that it plans to release Windows Phone 8 smartphones, one each from Samsung and HTC. Verizon Wireless will add a third Windows 8 handset by Samsung.