Apple Reclaims Title of World's Top Smartphone Seller from Samsung

In the fourth quarter of 2016 alone, the launch of the iPhone 7 and Samsung's difficulties with its Note 7 model enabled Apple to take top slot in the market with a share of 17.9 percent or 77 million units sold.

For 2016 overall, smartphone sales to end users totalled almost 1.5 billion units, an increase of 5 per cent from 2015.

In a tightening smartphone race, the fourth quarter of 2016 represented the closest ever between Samsung and Apple, with Samsung's Galaxy Note7 battery fire drama allowing Apple to overtake the South Korean manufacturer for the first time since Q4 2014.

Despite of its Note 7 woes and Apple's quarter surge, Samsung still led the global smartphone market in 2016 with a 20.5 percent market share, ahead of Apple's 14.4 percent.

Samsung's smartphone sales started to drop in the third quarter of 2016, and the decision to discontinue the Galaxy Note 7 slowed down sales of its smartphone portfolio in the fourth quarter, he added.

Samsung also faced increased competition in the midtier and entry-level smartphone segments from Huawei, Oppo, BBK and Gionee, who all grew. It's been two years since Apple topped the global smartphone vendor ranking but its lead is small with only 256,000 units difference. Riding on the success of iPhone 7 and Apple Watch, the Cupertino-based company recently announced an all-time record revenue of $78.4 billion for the first quarter of 2017 that ended on December 31. Huawei last month announced it would use Alexa on its Mate 9 smartphones in the U.S. Currently, the Google Assistant only runs on Google's Pixel smartphone, Home speaker and smartwatches running the latest version of the Android Wear software.

Oppo is at the number one position in China, and thanks to its great selfie cameras, and fast-charging technology, continues to see a boost in sales across the world. It sold 26.7 million units in the fourth quarter to take 6.2% of the worldwide smartphone pie.

"BBK's focus on quality, design, and strong branding initiatives has positioned it as a strong mobile phone brand in China and India", the research firm said.

Huawei, together with Oppo and BBK Communication, the next biggest makers in the global smartphone market, accounted for 21.3 percent of smartphones sold in Q4 2016.

Gartner said major Chinese brands such as Huawei, ZTE, Xiaomi, and Lenovo were expanding into markets outside China, where they would "continue to disrupt the top smartphone players in 2017".

"We're seeing a very real progression compared with earlier years, when the number three maker and the others had struggled to hold on to a market share of more than four percent", Zimmermann said.

  • Arturo Norris