Apple surpasses Samsung in Q4 smartphone sales

Mar 03, 2015, 3:04 PM EST
A customer examines an Apple Inc. iPhone 6 at a SoftBank Corp. store in Tokyo, Japan, on Sunday, Feb. 8, 2015.
Bloomberg/Bloomberg via Getty Images

In Q4 2014, for the first time since 2011 Apple passed Samsung in total smartphone sales. For the final quarter of 2014, Apple took home a 20.4 percent share of worldwide smartphone sales, up from 17.8 percent during the same quarter in 2013, reports CNET. Over the same period, Samsung's share of the smartphone market, on sales of 73 million units, plummeted to 19.9 percent from 29.5. percent. Last quarter, Apple sold 74.8 million iPhones to achieve its best quarter ever, Gartner said. Apple's phone lineup, now led by the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus , enjoyed heavy demand in the US and China, where sales surged 88 percent and 56 percent, respectively, according to Gartner. The new iPhones spurred many existing owners to upgrade but also convinced buyers looking for big-screened phones to consider Apple as an alternative to Android.

Apple's record quarter was a definitive sign that the move to bump up the display size of its smartphone paid off. The company had been losing market share and sales to Samsung, which offered larger-screened phones such as the Galaxy S5 and Galaxy Note. But the iPhone 6 wasn't the only factor that helped Apple score the top spot. Samsung has also been hit on the low end by budget-friendly smartphones from Chinese vendors such as Xiaomi.

TechCrunch asks: so what will Samsung have to do differently to try to reverse course? Gartner suggests a more exclusive and unique approach for the handset maker, not unlike what Apple and OEMs like Xiaomi working on forked Android devices are doing. “With Apple dominating the premium phone market and the Chinese vendors increasingly offering quality hardware at lower prices, it is through a solid ecosystem of apps, content and services unique to Samsung devices that Samsung can secure more loyalty and longer-term differentiation at the high end of the market,” writes Roberta Cozza, research director at Gartner. The bigger picture for mobile phone sales points to another interesting trend. While smartphones are now at 1.2 billion in annual unit sales, there is still a very sizeable feature phone market, with 700 million of these sold in 2014. 

Samsung hopes to reignite interest in its smartphone business with the unveiling of the Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge during this week's Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, notes USA Today. Both devices are slated to launch this spring. Also making big gains: Chinese smartphone makers Huawei and Xiaomi. "They are producing higher-quality devices with appealing new hardware features that can rival the more-established players in the mobile phone market," Cozza said. Xiaomi experienced the largest jump among global smartphone makers, more than tripling smartphone sales numbers compared with a year ago.