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Its official: Samsung Galaxys killed the Apple star. Samsung’s Galaxys now rule the smartphone world, outselling Apple’s iPhone by 16 million.

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Once a follower, Samsung is now leading innovation in the  smartphone market.

No. 1 phone maker Samsung sold an astounding 63.7 million smartphones in the fourth quarter, compared to Apple’s 47.8 m, new data from IDC confirms.

In Q4, Samsung accounted for one third of all smartphones purchased (29%) leaving former numero uno maker Apple trailing on 21.8%, and was also the world’s top ‘dumb’ phone maker, in 2012.

The Galaxy S III maker enjoyed a massive final quarter, with 76% growth compared to the same qr 2011, thanks to its massive Galaxy Android family of smarties catering for all tastes and pockets, say IDC.

Overall in 2012, Samsung grew 129% shipping a massive 215.8 million smartphones, followed by Apple 135.9 m (+29%) and Nokia in number three place; however, the Finnish maker was nowhere to be seen in Q4’s top 5 smartphone listing.

Apple shipped 47.8 million iPhones – driven by demand from China in Q4.

However, it wasn’t necessarily the new iPhone 5 that drove demand although it did hit record sales. Its Q4 success was partly due to demand for iPhone 4, which Apple couldn’t make enough of to meet demand, noted IDC.

Further down the smartphone charts, Chinese maker Huawei nabbed No. 3 spot, kicking former Android darling HTC and LG out of the all-important top 5 in the fourth quarter, followed by Sony who enjoyed “a significant improvement,” and China’s other big player ZTE.

Nokia, noticeably absent from smartphone top 5 in Q4, did manage to hold on to No. 2 in mobile phone charts, shipping 86.3m ‘dumb’ phones, with Samsung at No. 1.

But 2013 will be a “pivotal year” for Samsung as it unleashes its new Tizen smartphone operating system, says IDC although it “will continue to rely on Android as its primary operating system, however, as the move to Tizen will not likely take place overnight,” says IDC.

It will also be interesting to see how its Windows 8 phones due out very soon will fare, compared to its mammoth Android success.

Overall, the smartphone market grew a whopping 44% last year to 712.6 m units, and 36% in Q4 to 219.4 m and is fast now catching up with the humble mobile phone – smart devices represent 45% of all phones shipped in 2012.
 
However, even phone king Samsung warned growth in the smartphone market may slow this year, in its earnings statement last week.

 

Despite the dominance of the two horses in the smartphone market, Apple and Samsung, it’s still all to play for, in particular for low cost Chinese brands like ZTE and Huawei, who are making major gains.

“The high-growth smartphone market, though dominated by Samsung and Apple, still presents ample opportunities for challengers,” believes Kevin Restivo, IDC’s senior mobile analyst.

 “Vendors with unique market advantages, such as lower-cost devices, can rapidly gain market share, especially in emerging markets.”

The fact that Huawei and ZTE now find themselves among the Top 5 smartphone vendors marks a “significant shift” for the global market, says Ramon Llamas, from IDC Mobile Phone team.

The overall mobile market grew just 2% in 4Q, meaning demand for humble mobile is fading fast.

The mobile phone market (both dumb and smart) was sluggish in 2012 growing just 1.2% to 1.7 billion last year.

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