Samsung grabbed the No. 1 worldwide smartphone position from Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL), selling over 23 million units in the third quarter for the first time ever, fueled by the phone maker's new Galaxy S II line and handsets powered by its own bada platform.
The company, which commanded 20 percent market share for Q3, sold over 10 million Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) Android-based Galaxy S II handsets through April and October in a slow, country-by-country roll-out.
Apple, which took over the top smartphone spot from Nokia, fell to No. 2 worldwide, shipping 17.1 million phones for a 14.5 percent share.
However, IDC cautioned that Samsung's growth in Q4 could be tempered somewhat by the release of Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPhone 4S handset, which launched in several countries Oct. 14.
"Apple's fourth quarter launch of the iPhone 4S and lower pricing of older models will certainly boost volumes, and Nokia's recent launch of Windows Phone smartphones marks the beginning of a new era for the company," noted IDC analyst Ramon Llamas.
"While these point to larger volumes in the quarters to come, they will also lead to increased competition ... Now that Apple has launched its iPhone 4S and re-priced its older models in multiple countries, Apple stands poised to challenge Samsung for the leadership position."
New iPhones weigh so heavily on market expectations that smartphone growth was lower than expected-42.6 percent compared with 49.1 percent for the quarter-because the iPhone 4S launched in October instead of July, per custom.
"In previous years, the introduction of a new iPhone resulted in a spike in shipment volumes during the third quarter," IDC noted. "Western Europe and the United States, two key regions for the iPhone launch each year, still posted sizable year-over-year gains, but lower than anticipated."
Even so, smartphone growth has yet to plateau. IDC said vendors shipped 118.1 million units in Q3, compared with just 82.8 million units in Q3 2010.
Meanwhile, Nokia kept its hold on the No. 3 position, selling 16.8 million handsets for a 14.2 percent share. HTC shipped 12.7 million for a 10.8 percent share, passing Research in Motion (NASDAQ:RIMM), whose 11.8 million units shipped and 10 percent market share put it fifth place.
That's a full 5 percentage points less than Q3 2010, as the company continues to hemorrhage share.