Apple ousts Samsung, reclaiming top spot in global phone market

According to Gartner, Apple surpassed Samsung in global smart phone sales for the first time since 2011, but Apple is not the only smart phone company gaining traction worldwide.

Robert Galbraith
File - Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook stands in front of a screen displaying the IPhone 6 during a presentation at Apple headquarters in Cupertino, California.

In the two-horse race that is the smart phone market, Apple has pulled ahead of Samsung in global sales for the first time since 2011, according to research company Gartner.

After Apple’s best quarter on record last year, it is unsurprising to see the tech giant on top. Apple snagged 20.4 percent of the smart phone market in the fourth quarter and sold 74.8 million units. Just a year ago, Apple held 17.8 percent of the market and moved only 50.2 million handsets.

Samsung had a tougher year. In the fourth quarter of 2013, the South Korean company held 29.5 percent of sales, but a year later ended with just 19.9 percent of global sales. Samsung sold only 73 million smart phones, compared to 83.3 million in 2013.

"Samsung's performance in the smartphone market deteriorated further in the fourth quarter of 2014, when it lost nearly 10 percentage points in market share," says Anshul Gupta, principal research analyst at Gartner, in the report. "Samsung continues to struggle to control its falling smartphone share, which was at its highest in the third quarter of 2013. This downward trend shows that Samsung's share of profitable premium smartphone users has come under significant pressure." 

Gartner attributed Apple's recent success to its larger iPhone models the 6 and 6 Plus. Thanks to the consumer demand for “phablets,” Apple saw huge growth rates in the US (88 percent) and China (56 percent) and raked in $18 billion for its fourth quarter, the largest ever reported by a public company, according to S&P analyst Howard Silverblatt.

Samsung on the other hand has suffered at both ends of the market. While Apple has left little wiggle room in the high end of the mobile market, Samsung has also faced rising competition from the low-cost sector from the likes of the Chinese mobile company Xiaomi. Though it is betting on the Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge to help pull it out of its slump.

The smartphone market is booming – sales were up 28.4 percent last year from 2013 – but one surprising find in Gartner’s study is that the two top competitors are losing their strangle hold on the market.

In the fourth quarter of 2013, the two companies held 47.3 percent of the market, but a mere 12 months later, that number dropped to 40.3 percent of global sales.

The Chinese company Lenovo, which acquired Motorola Mobility last year, held onto its third-place spot in the global market, reaching 6.6 percent of the share, up from 5.8 percent, but has also seen a continued growth rate of 47.6 percent year over year.

While Xiaomi’s 5.1 percent share of the market may seem incredibly small, its global sales increased from 5.5 million to 18.5 million, showing it has huge potential to face off against the dueling giants.

"Chinese vendors are no longer followers," adds Roberta Cozza, research director at Gartner, in the report. "They are producing higher quality devices with appealing new hardware features that can rival the more established players in the mobile phone market. Brand building and marketing will be key activities in deciding which Chinese vendors can secure a foothold in mature markets." 

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