Is Apple the winner in the smartphone race or has Samsung left it for dust? Various market research companies have revealed data for the final quarter of 2012, but the reports appear to contradict each other, with Strategy Analytics suggesting that Apple's in the smartphone pole position worldwide, while IDC and Gartner suggest otherwise. Who's right? Just how big it the iPhone's marketshare?

Apple heads up worldwide smartphone market share

Apple shipped 27.4 million iPhone 5 units and overtook Samsung Galaxy S3 to become the world’s best-selling smartphone model for the first time ever in Q4 2012, according to Strategy Analytics.

Strategy Analytics Senior Analyst Neil Shah said: "The iPhone 5 captured an impressive 13 percent share of all smartphones shipped globally".

"In addition to the iPhone 5, Apple shipped an estimated 17.4 million iPhone 4S units for 8 percent smartphone share globally in Q4 2012. Apple’s iPhone 5 and iPhone 4S are currently the world’s two most popular smartphone models," he added.

This suggests that the naysayers who claim that Apple is losing out to Samsung, who is said to be selling more smartphones on a worldwide scale, are incorrect.

The full Strategy Analytics report is here.

The Strategy Analytics research indicates that in quarter four of 2012 Apple sold 27.4 million iPhone 5 and 17.4 million iPhone 4S, compared to Samsung Galaxy S3 sales of 15.4 million.

Apple released the iPhone 5 at the end of the third quarter and still saw 6 million sales, it also sold 16.2 iPhone 4S models in the third quarter. Samsung sold 18 million S3 phones in the third quarter of 2012, suggesting that combined iPhone sales were still better than Samsung even in the quarter in which people were said to be holding off updating to the iPhone as a new model was anticipated.

No, Samsung was global number one, according to Gartner

In contrast to Strategy Analytics, earlier this month, Gartner issued a report claiming that Samsung ended the year in the number one position, in both worldwide smartphone sales and overall mobile phone sales.

Gartner clamed that in the fourth quarter of 2012, Samsung’s overall smartphone sales continued to accelerate totaling 64.5 million units, up 85.3 percent from the fourth quarter of 2011.

In contrast, Apple’s sales reached 43.5 million units in the fourth quarter of 2012, up 22.6 percent year-on-year.

That contrasts to Strategy Analytics claim of 44.8 million iPhones compared to Samsung Galaxy S3 sales of 15.4 million (there is potentially another 49.1 million Samsung phones unaccounted for in the data).

Gartner noted that in the fourth quarter of 2012, Apple and Samsung together raised their worldwide smartphone market share to 52 percent from 46.4 percent in the third quarter of 2012.

However, worldwide mobile phone sales to end users totaled 1.75 billion units in 2012, a 1.7 percent decline from 2011 sales, according to Gartner.

Gartner principal research Anshul Gupta blamed: "Tough economic conditions, shifting consumer preferences and intense market competition" for the weakened worldwide mobile phone market. He noted that the last time the worldwide mobile phone market declined was in 2009.

Regarding the success of Apple and Samsung, Gupta said: "There is no manufacturer that can firmly lay claim to the No. 3 spot in global smartphone sales. The success of Apple and Samsung is based on the strength of their brands as much as their actual products. Their direct competitors, including those with comparable products, struggle to achieve the same brand appreciation among consumers, who, in a tough economic environment, go for cheaper products over brand."

Apple's worldwide market share in 2012

In addition, last month, worldwide smartphone data from IDC indicated that Apple's worldwide market share grew to 25.1 percent in 2012 but it was in second place worldwide, behind market leader Samsung.

According to that report, Apple's total iPhone shipments increased 46.9% last year, from 93.1 million handsets in 2011 to 136.8 million in 2012.

The IDC data suggested that Samsung grew its shipments by 129.1 percent, double that of Apple's year-over-year growth, notes Apple Insider.

Gartner claims that in 2012, Samsung totaled 384.6 million mobile phones sales, of which 53.5 percent (up from 28 percent in 2011) were smartphone sales (that's 205.76 million smartphones from Samsung).

Apple, on the other hand, saw 130 million smartphone sales worldwide in 2012, according to that data.

This research suggests that if all Samsung's smartphones are included (rather than just the Galaxy S3) then that company sold 205.76 million smartphones in the quarter, compared to Apple's 130 million.

US smartphone market share

A report from Strategy Analytics earlier this month indicated that Apple shipped 17.7 million mobile phones, putting it at pole position, with a record 34% of the US market during the fourth quarter of 2012. That was up from 12.8 million units shipped and a 25.4% share in the fourth quarter of 2011.

Samsung, meanwhile, shipped 16.8 million mobile phones for a 32.3% market share, up from 13.5 million units and 26.9% in 2011, according to that report.

That report noted that Samsung had held the top spot in the US since 2008.

Data from the comScore MobiLens service also suggests that Apple ranked as the top smartphone manufacturer in the US in the fourth quarter of 2012 with 36.3 percent share.

iOS internet market share

However, according to the comScore report, Google Android led as the US's number one smartphone platform with 53.4 percent share, writes MacDailyNews.

Apple's share of the smartphone platform market was 36.3 % in the quarter. Blackberry had 6.4% and Microsoft had 2.9%, according to the data.  

This contrasts with research from StatCounter that suggested in Apple edged out Nokia in January for the first time as the most popular mobile vendor in terms of global internet usage.  

Samsung also climbed ahead of Nokia to take second place behind Apple on a worldwide basis. (While it's true that Google Android is the operating system on many smartphones that aren't made by Samsung, it seems likely that the vast majority of Android users are using Samsung phones).

In the first month of 2013 Apple led globally for the first time in terms of internet usage with 25.86%, ahead of Samsung at 22.69% and Nokia at 22.15%, in January 2013.

According, to that research Samsung took second place behind Apple.

However, it wasn't all good news. Apple’s worldwide internet usage share fell 2.81% year on year. It was 28.67% in January 2012. On the other hand, Samsung rose from 14.84% to 22.69% over the same period, while Nokia fell from 37.67% to 22.15%.

Apple makes more money from phone sales

Perhaps it doesn't matter who has the lead when it comes to smartphone marketshare. Perhaps what it key is the money that the company makes from sales of the product.

A report issued by Canaccord Genuity's T. Michael Walkley at the beginning of February suggested that Apple took home 72% of the smartphone market profits despite only claiming 21.7% of unit sales in the fourth quarter.

Samsung, on the other hand, took just 29% of the profits from its 28.9% of unit sales.

This means that 43 cents of every dollar spent in the world on a cellphone in Q4 ended up in Apple's coffers, while Samsung made 36 cents and Nokia got 7 cents, notes Fortune.

In 2013, Walkley expects that Apple and Samsung will split 103% of the profits, 69/34.

This is why it is significant that Apple makes such high margins on the sales of its devices. There have been concerns recently that these margins are declining, and they are likely to decline further if Apple releases a budget iPhone. Morgan Stanley project that Apple will post margins of 38.7% for 2013, unlike in 2012 when its margins peaked at almost 44%.

Apple is reporting widespread adoption of the iPhone among Fortune 500 companies, according to Forbes.

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