Apple's record quarter leads rebound of phone shipments in Q4

The iPhone maker turned in a "phenomenal performance" during the quarter, IDC reports.

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The iPhone 12 helped Apple regain the smartphone shipment crown.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Global smartphone shipments bounced back in the fourth quarter from the sales slump caused by the outbreak a year ago of the coronavirus pandemic, according to figures released on Wednesday by market researcher IDC. And much of that rebound can be credited to Apple.

Vendors shipped 385.9 million handsets during the quarter, a 4.3% increase over the year-ago period in a year that overall saw a 5.9% decline in shipments, IDC reported. A variety of factors likely contributed to that recovery, IDC said.

"There are a lot of elements at play that are fueling the smartphone market recovery -- pent-up demand, continued supply push on 5G, aggressive promotions, and the popularity of low to mid-priced phones," Nabila Popal, research director with IDC's Worldwide Mobile Device Trackers, said in a statement. "Vendors also seem to be better prepared for the second lockdown, ensuring they have the right channel set up ready to fulfill orders and reach the end consumer."

For much of the past year, the smartphone industry has been grappling with the coronavirus pandemic and the impact it's having on consumers. When COVID-19 first started spreading, worries about the illness caused a dramatic slowdown in phone purchases as people around the globe decided the device they had was good enough.

Apple regained the crown with 22.2% year-over-year growth in the quarter -- what IDC characterized as a "phenomenal performance." Driven by the iPhone 12 series, Apple shipped 90.1 million devices in the quarter -- the highest volume by a vendor in a single quarter. Overall, Apple now has claims 23.4% of the smartphone market.

Samsung slipped to the No. 2 position in the quarter with 6.2% growth on the shipment 73.9 million devices, giving it a 19.1% market share. Xiaomi rounded out the top three with 43.3 million devices shipped and a 11.2% market share.

The iPhone giant earlier Wednesday reported its highest revenue ever as it benefited from soaring demand for its new iPhones. Apple's mobile business revenue jumped about 17% from the previous year.

Apple's chief rival, Samsung, didn't fare so well. It reported Wednesday that revenue from its mobile business sales tumbled 11% during the quarter.