Apple Overtakes Samsung As World’s Largest Smartphone Vendor In Q4

According to the latest report from Strategy Analytics, Apple has now overtaken Samsung to become the world’s largest smartphone vendor by volume. Apple achieved 23.9% market share during Q4 2011, narrowly beating out Samsung’s 23.5% share.

In addition, Apple shipped 37 million units in Q4, again going neck-and-neck with Samsung and its 36.5 million units shipped during the same time.

However, notes Neil Mawston, Executive Director at Strategy Analytics, “while Apple took the top spot in smartphones on a quarterly basis, Samsung became the market leader in annual terms for the first time with 20% global share during 2011.” Apple’s annual share, meanwhile, was 19%.

In other words, Apple won the quarter, not the year.

Smartphone global shipments reached nearly half a billion units in 2011 (488.5 million units), the firm found, turning the smartphone battle into a two-horse race between Apple and Samsung in terms of units shipped.

Nokia, the one-time smartphone leader, is still holding onto a top spot, in position #3, with 19.6 million units shipped during Q4 and 77.3 million shipped during 2011. But Nokia’s global share has been halved from 33% in 2010 to just 16% in 2011, indicating its ongoing decline.

Although Strategy’s numbers paint the Samsung vs. Apple battle as a tight race between mobile giants, there’s a big difference between the numbers being reported here. As MacRumors points out, Samsung no longer reports its mobile phone sales numbers, while Apple discloses its units sold each quarter. That means analysts are estimating Samsung’s numbers, but Apple’s numbers are provided by the company itself. It could be that Apple’s lead is even greater than what’s seen here.

Update: A report from the analysts at Canalys has just come in, and confirms the same thing – it’s an Apple vs. Samsung battle.

According to the firm’s latest findings, Apple’s record shipment of 37 million iPhones shipped in Q4 beat the previous record held by Nokia of 28.3 million phones shipped in Q4 2010. Another shocking figure: the huge volume of iPhones shipped exceeded the size of the entire market of 4 years ago, when 35.5 million smartphones shipped globally.

The firm also noted Nokia’s shipment of 19.6 million smartphones, calling it “a decent performance given its current transitional state.” However, Canalys stopped short of estimating Samsung’s phone shipments at this time, saying that the company doesn’t disclose these numbers publicly. They did say that Samsung’s quarterly smartphone growth was around 30% and mobile phone shipments were up 10%, though.

Says Canalys Vice President and Principal Analyst Chris Jones, “the numbers are still coming in, but our early take on the state of the smartphone market is that, while Apple and Samsung clearly saw phenomenal performances, many other vendors have struggled. The full impact of this difficult quarter on hardware and software vendors will become clearer over the next week, when final results from the likes HTC, LG, Huawei and ZTE are announced, and Canalys publishes its full Q4 2011 worldwide country-level databases.”