Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Apple draws level with Samsung as biggest smartphone maker” was written by Samuel Gibbs, for theguardian.com on Thursday 29th January 2015 14.25 UTC

The popularity of the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus helped Apple to catch up with Samsung in sales in the last quarter of 2014, research shows.

The two companies have been locked in a battle for the top spot since 2011, when Samsung’s Galaxy S line of smartphones helped the South Korean group to steal the crown of the world’s biggest smartphone maker from Apple.

Neil Mawston, executive director at the research company Strategy Analytics, said Apple sold 74.5m smartphones worldwide, giving it a record 20% market share in the three months to 31 December, up from 18% the previous year. That means Apple tied with Samsung as largest smartphone vendor for the first time since the same quarter in 2011.

Samsung also sold 74.5m smartphones for a 20% market share – a significant fall from the 30% market share and 86m smartphones sold in the final quarter of 2013, according to the Strategy Analytics data.

The company’s mobile phone division has struggled, with profits collapsing to 1.96tn won (£1.18bn) in the period, from 5.47tn won in 2013. However, Samsung remained the top smartphone maker for 2014 as a whole, selling 317.2m devices.

Smartphone domination

Apple sold 192.7m iPhones in 2014, up from 153.4m the previous year. In contrast with Samsung’s sales, which include mid-tier and budget models as well as flagship devices, Apple’s flagship-only strategy has resulted in high margins at volume, which was reflected in this week’s record quarterly profits.

Together Apple and Samsung dominate the global smartphone market, with a 40% share. But both are facing increasing pressure from Chinese rivals including Xiaomi – referred to as China’s Apple by analysts – whose sales in China put it in third position globally in the third quarter of 2014.

“Samsung continues to face intense competition from Apple at the higher end of the smartphone market, from Huawei in the middle tiers, and from Xiaomi and others at the entry level,” Mawston said. “Samsung may soon have to consider taking over rivals, such as BlackBerry, in order to revitalise growth this year.”

Lenovo’s merger with Motorola left the joint company with 6% of the global smartphone marketshare in the fourth quarter, making it the third-largest manufacturer at the expense of Xiaomi. “Lenovo is hoping to leverage Motorola’s famous brand to drive global scale this year and to offset some of Lenovo’s recently weakening smartphone growth at home in China,” said Woody Oh, director at Strategy Analytics.

Android tops 1bn devices sold in 2014

Apple’s new iPhone 6 and 6 Plus models – the first to move past the 4in screen size introduced with the iPhone 5 – have proved wildly popular in China, the US and Europe, according to Mawston.

Much depends on Samsung’s launch of its Galaxy S6, expected in March. Samsung hopes that the new phone will reinvigorate sales after the Galaxy S5 reportedly sold 40% fewer units than the company expected.

The new model is expected to follow Samsung’s design shift to metal-bodied phones, as seen in its top phablet, the Galaxy Note 4, which won praise for its build.

Google’s Android also sold 1bn devices across many manufacturers for the first time in 2014, accounting for 81% of all smartphones shipped. That left Apple’s iOS with a 15% share of the market and Microsoft’s Windows a 3% share, as global smartphone shipments jumped 30% to 1.3bn units for the year.

Linda Sui, director at Strategy Analytics, said: “Emerging markets, such as China and Indonesia, drove the industry’s growth last year and they will continue to do so through 2015.”

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