iPhone 4S helps Apple beat Samsung to smartphone throne: Gartner

Strong iPhone 4S sales helped Apple beat Samsung to become the world’s top smartphone vendor in the last quarter of 2011, technology market research firm Gartner has said in its 2011 update.

Thanks to strong sales of its iPhone, which hit new carriers in the U.S., it had a 23.8 percent share in the global smartphone market in the fourth quarter. It was already the leading smartphone brand in the U.S.. Samsung followed close behind with a 22% market share in smart phones.

iPhone sales more than doubled in the quarter.

As a result of the changes, Android’s overall share declined slightly sequentially. iOS’s market share grew 8 percentage points year-on-year, but Gartner said it expects Apple’s share to drop in the next couple of quarters as the upgrade cycle to the iPhone 4S slows.

Smartphones accounted for 31% of all phone sales in the quarter, helping Apple beat LG Electronics to become the third biggest mobile phone maker in the world.

Besides Apple, Samsung and the two Chinese companies, Huawei and ZTE, had impressive sales in the fourth quarter.

On the disappointing side, LG, Sony Ericsson, Motorola and Research In Motion (RIM) saw disappointing results, Gartner said.

In the fourth quarter of 2011, Nokia’s mobile phone sales numbered 111.7 million units, an 8.7 percent decrease from last year. Samsung closed the gap with Nokia in overall market share, Gartner said.

After Apple, ZTE and Huawei were the fastest-growing vendors in the fourth quarter of 2011. “These vendors expanded their market reach and kept on improving the user experience of their Android devices,” said Ms. Cozza.

In the fourth quarter of 2011, ZTE moved into fourth place in the global handset market. ZTE posted a strong smartphone sales increase of 71 percent sequentially.

Against the 47% increase in smartphone sales in the fourth quarter, overall sales of mobile phones was up only 5.4% — indicating that ‘non-smart’ phone sales were down compared to the same quarter of 2010.

A total of 476.5 million mobile phones were sold in the fourth quarter of 2011, taking the total for 2011 to 1.8 billion units. The full year figure was a growth of 11% over 2010, higher than the fourth-quarter growth rate.

“Expectations for 2012 are for the overall market to grow by about 7 percent, while smartphone growth is expected to slow to around 39 percent,” said Annette Zimmermann, principal research analyst at Gartner.