Apple inches past Samsung as world's top smartphone vendor

Apple outscored Samsung by less than a percentage point in market share last quarter thanks to heavy demand for the iPhone 4S, according to IDC.

Lance Whitney
Lance Whitney Contributing Writer
Lance Whitney is a freelance technology writer and trainer and a former IT professional. He's written for Time, CNET, PCMag, and several other publications. He's the author of two tech books--one on Windows and another on LinkedIn.
2 min read

Apple has been crowned the victor in last quarter's smartphone wars by yet another research firm.

Among the top five global manufacturers, Apple grabbed the top spot with a market share of 23.5 percent, according to IDC figures released yesterday. That was a healthy gain over the 15.9 percent share from a year ago.

The iPhone maker also shipped the greatest number of phones last quarter at 37 million, compared with 16.2 million in 2010's fourth quarter.

Brisk sales for the iPhone 4S helped Apple narrowly surpass smartphone rival Samsung. The Korean handset maker's share rose to 22.8 percent in the fourth quarter, a leap from 9.4 percent a year earlier. Samsung shipped 36 million phones for the quarter.

The new iPhone helped Apple achieve a record number of shipments, both for itself and across the entire industry, according to IDC.

The heavy demand came despite some initial disappointment that the iPhone 4S would not be the rumored iPhone 5 with a larger screen size and other whiz-bang features. But the combination of holiday shopping, a delay in the iPhone's launch to the fourth quarter, and the addition of Sprint as a carrier all added up to higher volumes.

Samsung may have come in second for the quarter but its 275 percent growth year over year in shipments was tops among all five vendors. The company kept expanding its Galaxy-class lineup, focusing on both high-end handsets such as the Galaxy S II and the Nexus, and more mass-market products, including the Galaxy Ace and Galaxy Y.

On the downside, both Nokia and Research In Motion saw their market shares drop for the quarter.

Nokia is facing a difficult position, hurt by falling demand for its Symbian phones but at the same time waiting for its new Lumia Windows Phone lineup to start grabbing customers. For the quarter, the Finnish phone maker saw its market share drop to 12.4 percent from 27.6 percent.

RIM's quarter had its share of ups and downs. New smartphones equipped with BlackBerry OS 7 hit more markets, while the company managed to avoid a fourth consecutive quarter of a decline in shipments. But the BlackBerry maker was hurt by a network outage in October. And it announced that BlackBerry OS 10 wouldn't arrive until later this year.

Rounding out the list, HTC watched its market share dip to 6.5 percent from 8.5 percent a year ago, though its shipments crept up to 10.2 million.

Beyond its usual array of Android phones, the company unveiled the Windows Phone-enabled Titan and Radar models, the Beats-influenced Rezound, and the LTE-enabled Vivid, IDC noted.

Looking at the full year, Samsung actually emerged as the top smartphone maker over Apple, though just by a fraction. Samsung's market share for 2011 rose to 19.1 percent from 7.5 percent in 2010, according to IDC, while Apple's nestled in at 19 percent last year from 15.6 percent in 2010.