EL SEGUNDO, CA — After losing market leadership in the third quarter, Apple Inc. returned to the No. 1 rank in global smartphone shipments in the fourth quarter as consumers flocked to buy the newly introduced iPhone 4S. Meanwhile, based on strong sales of its broad line of smartphone products, Samsung has become the world’s largest smartphone brand for the entire year of 2011, marking the first time the South Korean electronics giant has held this distinction.
Apple in the fourth quarter of 2011 shipped 37 million smartphones worldwide, up 117 percent from 17 million in the second quarter. This represented the strongest sequential quarterly growth among the Top 5 smartphone brands. Apple’s strong performance allowed it to slightly exceed Samsung’s total of 36 million.
Apple in the fourth quarter took the top spot in the market, displacing Samsung, which dropped to second place. Previously in the third quarter, Samsung had usurped Apple to take over the No. 1 rank, which Apple had attained for the first time in the second quarter.
“Apple’s introduction of the 4S in the fourth quarter unleashed tremendous pent-up demand for the iPhone as consumers awaited the arrival of the latest model,” said Wayne Lam, senior analyst, wireless communications at IHS. “This caused the company’s smartphone shipments to surge, allowing it to retake market leadership by a slight margin. However, Apple and Samsung continue to run neck and neck in global smartphone shipments, setting up a tight battle for leadership that will continue throughout 2012.”
Samsung for the entire year of 2011 shipped 95 million smartphones, up an explosive 278 percent from 25 million in 2010. This industry-leading growth allowed it to pass both Apple and previous market leader Nokia to take the No. 1 rank for the entire year of 2011.
“Samsung advanced in 2011 because of its strategy of offering a complete line of smartphone products, spanning a variety of price points, features and operating systems,” Lam said. “This enabled Samsung to move past perennial market leader Nokia and to slightly exceed Apple’s total for the year.”
For its part, Apple posted the second-best performance of all smartphone brands for the entire year of 2011, with its shipments nearly doubling to 93 million units, up from 47 million in 2010.
The market share battle between Apple and Samsung reflects the competition between the two leading smartphone operating systems and ecosystems: Apple's iOS and Google's Android.
However, the other major Android licensees—Sony Ericsson and Motorola—did not match Samsung’s strong smartphone performance in the fourth quarter or for the entire year.
“The relatively small growth of Sony Ericsson and Motorola may indicate that the Android smartphone market is becoming too crowded as the various licensees compete for limited consumer mindshare and shelf space,” Lam said.