Feature Article

February 20, 2013

There's a New Sheriff in Smartphone Town: The iPhone 5

In the third quarter of 2012, something wildly unexpected happened: Apple was no longer the world's top-selling smartphone brand, as Samsung's Galaxy S III took over. Most regarded it simply as a novelty effect, with Samsung's powerful new device blowing away Apple's less-than-new iPhone 4S.

When the iPhone 5 came out, many said Apple would retake the top of the hill. According to a new report, that's exactly what happened in Q4 2012.

The report from Strategy Analytics shows just what happened, and makes it clear that all it really takes for Apple to be number one in the market these days is a new release. Between the third and the fourth quarter of 2012, Samsung's sales on the Galaxy S III went from 18 million to 15.4 million. A bit of a slip, but a new iPhone coming out pretty much ensured that.

Apple, however, took the iPhone 5 from six million units sold to a whopping 27.4 million, handily beating Samsung's Galaxy S III numbers.

What's particularly noteworthy here, however, is that even the iPhone 4S managed to stage a comeback in the fourth quarter and still beat Samsung. While in the third quarter, iPhone 4S sales were 16.2 million units, the fourth quarter saw them tick upward to 17.4 million units, which still would have been enough to beat Samsung's 15.4 million.

Combined, the iPhone 4S and the iPhone 5 represented about 20.6 percent of the global market, which flattens Samsung's global market share of 7.1 percent. Both the iPhone 4S and the iPhone 5, individually, would have been enough to beat Samsung that quarter anyway, with the iPhone 4S accounting for 8 percent, and the iPhone 5 representing 12.6 percent.

Of course Samsung isn't exactly in dire straits. It's still the phone accounting for 7.1 percent of the entire market, which is no mean feat. Plus, there's very little concrete data around Samsung's other devices, like the Galaxy Note line, which would give Samsung a shot in the arm and an even better position.

Samsung's holding about half of Apple's market share with just one device. It was a very competitive fourth quarter, too, with several big handsets rolling out like the Nexus 4 and the Nokia Lumia 920.

Now, BlackBerry has a new model in play as well with the BlackBerry Z10.

And Samsung can't be counted out just yet, as reports have emerged pinning the launch of what is likely to be called the Samsung Galaxy S4 for as early as March 14, meaning that we may well have the makings of another dethroning in the not too distant future. Sooner may be better for Samsung, as a new iPhone likely won't be showing up until later this year, assuming Apple sticks to its recently established conventions of new iPad in spring / new iPhone in fall.

Some may say, however, that Apple has already broken those conventions thanks to the iPad Mini.

Whatever the plan, though, it's likely to be another hotly contested battleground year between smartphone titans Samsung and Apple, with the other firms eager to find a way to separate some of that well-entrenched market share for themselves.

Edited by Braden Becker

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