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Apple climbs past Samsung as world's top phone vendor

The iPhone maker captured 18 percent of the global smartphone market in the final months of 2016, says Strategy Analytics.

The iPhone 7 Plus is Apple's most advanced phone to date.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Apple is back on top.

The company overtook Samsung as the world's top smartphone vendor in the final three months of 2016, according to Strategy Analytics. The iPhone maker captured 18 percent of the global market in the December quarter, said the firm.

Apple on Tuesday reported it sold 78.3 million iPhones in the fourth quarter, snapping a three-quarter streak of iPhone unit sales declines. The results, fueled by sales of the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus, pushed Apple to its highest-quarter revenue and per-share earnings ever.

Samsung, which faced a massive Note 7 recall due to faulty batteries, dropped to second place, said Strategy Analytics. Samsung shipped 77.5 million smartphones worldwide during the fourth quarter, according to the firm, a 5 percent drop from the 81.3 million phones it shipped in the final three months of 2015.

"This was the iPhone's best performance for over a year, as Apple capitalized on Samsung's recent missteps," Neil Mawston, executive director at Strategy Analytics, said in a statement. "Samsung will be banking on the rumored Galaxy S8 model in a few weeks' time to reignite growth and return to the top spot in quarterly smartphone shipments."

Overall, global smartphone shipments grew 3 percent to hit 1.5 billion units in 2016. Rounding out the top five phone vendors for the fourth quarter were Huawei, OPPO and Vivo. The global smartphone market, which has been sluggish in recent years, recovered some due to stronger demand in developing markets like China and Africa, said the firm.

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