Apple Closes Gap with Samsung as Global Smartphone Shipments Top 1.3 Billion for 2014

Apple Closes Gap with Samsung as Global Smartphone Shipments Top 1.3 Billion for 2014The holidays were a happy time — especially for smartphone companies.

According to preliminary data from the International Data Corporation (IDC) Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker, smartphone vendors shipped a total of 375.2 million units during the fourth quarter of 2014 (4Q14).

“(That resulted) in 28.2 percent growth when compared to the 292.7 million units shipped in 4Q13 and 11.9 percent sequential growth above the 335.3 million units shipped in 3Q14,” according to International Data Corporation (IDC). For the full year, the worldwide smartphone market saw a total of 1,301.1 million units shipped, up 27.6 percent from the 1,019.4 million units shipped in 2013.”

Apple, however, managed to close the gap.

“Having spent 11 quarters prior to 4Q14 as the number two smartphone vendor in terms of shipments, Apple managed to close the gap to a near tie with Samsung in 4Q14,” noted the IDC report. “Led by the success of its newer, larger iPhone 6/6+ models, Apple reduced the volume gap to just 600,000 units in the fourth quarter.”

That was a huge climb, considering that despite its legendary profitability, Apple’s shipment volumes trailed Samsung’s by more than 33 million units throughout the same quarter a year ago.

“Continued success from Apple, coupled with the ongoing challenges facing Samsung, could enable Apple to overtake Samsung during the 2015 calendar year,” suggested IDC. “Samsung’s challenges have not only come from Apple, but also from the increasing number of low-cost Android OEMs that are putting out products at much lower margins. In order for Samsung to regain its share at the top, it will either have to accept lower margins from here forward or revamp its high-end strategy to compete with Apple.”

Ryan Reith, who helps track mobile phone sales and statistics for IDC, was impressed with Apple data.

“Most of the industry expected an extremely strong holiday quarter from Apple, especially with regards to the iPhone,” said Reith. “However, worldwide shipments of 74.5 million units beat everyone’s expectations.”

The Apple lovefest may continue.

“A few impressive things stand out with regard to Apple, noted IDC. “First, at a time when average selling prices (ASPs) for smartphone are rapidly declining, Apple managed to increase its reported ASPs in the fourth quarter due to higher-cost new models. Second, the growth of iPhone sales in both the U.S., which is considered a saturated market, and China, which presents the dual challenges of strong local competitors and serious price sensitivity, were remarkable.”

Can the growth be sustained? It’s an open question, but IDC analysts believe that right now Apple is in the lead.

“What remains to be seen is how the vendors beyond Samsung and Apple will assert themselves,” said Ramon Llamas, Research Manager with IDC’s Mobile Phone team. “With Lenovo acquiring Motorola, and Xiaomi having greater aspirations beyond China, the competitive pressure will come more from below and less from above. This will make the smartphone race continuously competitive as 2015 shapes up.”