Samsung is still leading the smartphone pack in sales, but Apple may be gaining on it.
Worldwide sales of Apple iPhone models will grow 12 percent year over year to 35 million units in the second quarter, Evercore analyst Rob Cihra predicted in a research note Wednesday. That's up 2 million units from his prior view -- and substantially higher than the 6 percent growth he forecasts for Samsung smartphones during the same period.
Cihra said the broader smartphone market saw percent growth in the higher teens, outpacing both companies, but noted that low-end smartphones generate meager profits.
While the quarterly growth would be good news for Apple, the company would still have a long way to go to catch up to its chief smartphone rival. Samsung's total unit sales are more than double Apple's, reaching 81 million during the quarter, according to Cihra. Samsung's flagship Galaxy S5 smartphone looked to have hit its sales targets for the period, Cihra said, though the company faced weaker demand for low- and mid-tier phones, resulting in the softer growth.
Samsung has overtaken Apple as the top smartphone manufacturer, capturing 31 percent of the worldwide market in the first quarter -- double Apple's market share, according to IDC. The researcher noted that during that quarter Samsung shipped more smartphones than the next four vendors combined. The Korean electronics giant managed to expand into the smartphone world by creating varieties of devices at different prices, as opposed to Apple's strategy to offer only one or two models per generation and remain at the high end of the market.
Also in Cihra's research note, the analyst maintains his forecast that 58 million iPhones will be sold in the critical fourth quarter, driven by pent-up demand for the rumored iPhone 6. Evercore continues to expects a 4.7-inch iPhone 6 to hit the market in September, with a 5.5-inch model coming around November at a $100 premium. The current iPhone 5S and 5C have 4-inch screens.
Apple hasn't announced the existence of the iPhone 6, but rumors are constantly swirling about it.
Cihra raised his price target for Apple stock to $115 -- up $15 from his previous prediction -- after boosting his forecast on iPhone sales.
Apple shares were roughly flat at $93.64 in early trading and are up 17 percent so far this year.