Samsung surrenders as Apple snatches smartphone sales crown

"Samsung continues to struggle to control its falling smartphone share, which was at its highest in the third quarter of 2013."

Worldwide sales of smartphones to end users had a record fourth quarter of 2014 with an increase of 29.9 percent from the same period in 2013 to reach 367.5 million units.

According to Gartner, Samsung lost the no.1 spot to Apple in the global smartphone market in the fourth quarter of 2014, having been top spot since 2011.

In 2014, sales of smartphones to end users totalled 1.2 billion units, up 28.4 percent from 2013 and represented two-thirds of global mobile phone sales.

"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, Gartner.

"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.”

But despite Apple dominating the premium phone market, and Chinese vendors increasingly offering quality hardware at lower prices, Roberta Cozza, research director, Gartner believes all is not lost for the South Korean tech giant.

“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,” she claims.

Apple on top

Apple reported its best quarter ever in the fourth quarter of 2014, which saw it sell 74.8 million units and move to the no.1 position in the global smartphone market.

Apple's first ever large-screen phones continued to see huge demand with sales in China and U.S., growing at 56 percent and 88 percent, respectively.

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Meanwhile, Apple's strong ecosystem and its new iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus drove strong replacements within the iOS base - these new smartphones also offered new users, who are looking for larger screen phones, a strong alternative to Android.

In the fourth quarter of 2014, Lenovo, which includes sales of mobile phones by Lenovo and Motorola, moved to the no.3 spot in the global smartphone market, reaching 6.6 percent market share and growing 47.6 percent year over year.

Lenovo's sales of mobile phones in its home market, China, grew 7.8 percent in the fourth quarter of 2014. In addition, its strong mobile phone sales in Russia, India, Indonesia and Brazil in the fourth quarter of 2014 helped it grow by 26 percent in the global mobile phone market.

Chinese vendors, such as Huawei and Xiaomi, are continuing to improve their sales in China and other overseas markets, increasing their share in the mid to low-end smartphone market.

"Chinese vendors are no longer followers," Cozza adds.

"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."

Cozza says the availability of smartphones at lower prices accelerated the migration of feature phone users to smartphones pushing the smartphone operating system (OS) market to double-digit growth in most emerging countries, including India, Russia and Mexico.

This trend continued to benefit Android, which saw its market share grow 2.2 percentage points in 2014, and 32 percent year on year.

Chinese and other smaller players drove Android's performance in 2014, while more established players at the higher end of the market continued to struggle to increase stickiness to their brands and ecosystems.

Meanwhile, Windows Phone's performance was flat but it recorded strong results in some markets in Europe, and in the business segment.