Apple Inc. (AAPL:US) passed Samsung (005930) Electronics Co. to become the top mobile-phone maker in the U.S. for the first time, scoring a victory in the companies’ battle for global dominance of the mobile-device market.
Apple sold 17.7 million mobile phones in the U.S. during the fourth quarter, a 38 percent jump from a year earlier, research firm Strategy Analytics said today in a statement. That gave it 34 percent of the market, topping Samsung, which sold 16.8 million handsets for a 32 percent market share. Total shipments grew 4 percent in the quarter to 52 million phones.
The U.S. market is a stronghold for Apple as it faces intensifying competition from Samsung and other smartphone makers using Google Inc. (GOOG:US)’s Android operating system. Samsung, which also makes cheaper handsets with less sophisticated functions, is the global leader in mobile phones with more than 100 million units sold last quarter.
“Apple’s success has been driven by its popular ecosystem of iPhones and App Store, generous carrier subsidies, and extensive marketing around the new iPhone 5 model,” said Neil Mawston, an analyst at Strategy Analytics in London.
LG Electronics Inc. (066570) remained the third-largest vendor in the U.S., shipping 4.7 million mobile phones for a 9 percent market share, Boston-based Strategy Analytics said.
Apple introduced the iPhone in 2007, and the product became the Cupertino, California-based company’s biggest source of revenue as consumers embraced its touch screen and ability to download games and other applications. Apple has fueled demand by introducing a new version approximately every year, and cutting the price of older models at the same time.
Still, broader product portfolios from Samsung and other rivals have begun to eat into Apple’s growth globally. Last month, Apple posted the slowest profit growth since 2003 and the weakest sales increase in 14 quarters, fueling concern about Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook’s ability to keep producing hit products more than a year after the death of co-founder Steve Jobs.
Even in the U.S., Samsung may regain the top spot in 2013 by releasing new mobile-phone models such as the Galaxy S4, Mawston said. While Apple relies on just the iPhone, Suwon, South Korea-based Samsung’s offering includes cheaper, more basic phones, as well as larger-screen, more expensive devices.
Samsung fell 0.5 percent to 1,441,000 won in Seoul trading, extending its decline this year to 5.3 percent. Apple fell 0.3 percent to $455.49 in New York yesterday, extending its drop this year to 14 percent.
Apple and Samsung have also emerged as the dominant rivals in tablet computers, after Apple pioneered the market with its iPad. Samsung more than doubled its share of the tablet sales in the fourth quarter, gaining on leader Apple.
Worldwide tablet sales surged 75 percent to 52.5 million units in the period, research firm IDC said in a statement yesterday. Samsung’s market share jumped to 15 percent from 7.3 percent a year earlier, while Apple’s dropped to 44 percent from 52 percent.
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