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Apple pulls even with Samsung in global smartphone market

The rivals tie for the top spot in the fourth quarter of 2014, with Apple's fortunes on the rise and Samsung's heading in the opposite direction, according to figures from researcher Strategy Analytics.

Apple's larger-screen iPhones seem to have gotten the company back in the game in a big way.
Apple's larger-screen iPhones seem to have gotten the company back in the game in a big way. CNET

Looks like it's neck and neck between Apple and Samsung in the race for smartphone champ. And Apple's got momentum on its side.

The Cupertino, Calif.-based iPhone maker saw its share of the global smartphone market grow to 20 percent in the fourth quarter, from 18 percent a year earlier, according to research firm Strategy Analytics. At the same time, its South Korean rival's fortunes went the other way, dropping the firm to that identical 20 percent figure from 30 percent a year ago.

Both companies saw fourth-quarter shipments of 74.5 million smartphones, Strategy Analytics said, and Samsung remained No. 1 in sales worldwide when considering all of 2014.

Samsung has been struggling to compete against Apple in the high-end phone market and against newcomers such as Xiaomi at the low end. Apple in particular has become a bigger threat with its larger screen devices, the 4.7-inch iPhone 6 and the 5.5-inch iPhone 6 Plus. Simply wanting a bigger display is no longer a reason to buy Samsung's devices, and its smartphones can't reach the low prices of those from Chinese and Indian vendors.

That last point is important because markets like China are increasingly where the action is. Strategy Analytics said worldwide smartphone shipments grew 31 percent, to a record of 380.1 million units, in the fourth quarter of 2014 from the year-ago period, with 1.3 billion smartphones shipping globally in 2014 and "very strong growth in emerging markets such as China, India and Africa."

And Apple doesn't seem to be having trouble in those areas. During the company's earnings call Tuesday, CEO Tim Cook said iPhone sales in emerging markets such as Brazil and Mainland China were " absolutely stunning," more than doubling year-over-year, which, according to researcher IDC, is three times to four times what those markets had been doing.

It's the first time in three years that Apple has sat atop the global smartphone market, Strategy Analytics said, having seen that position usurped by Samsung.