Samsung has flexed considerable muscle this summer, selling more than 10 million Galaxy S III smartphones and more than 10 million Galaxy Note phones. During the second quarter, the company shipped nearly twice as many smartphones as Apple. What remains to be seen is whether the company can hold on to its market position once Apple begins selling the iPhone 5.
In August, the Galaxy S III replaced the iPhone 4S as the top-selling smartphone in the United States, marking the first time the 4S hasn't held the title since it debuted in October 2011, Canaccord Genuity analysts wrote in a Sept. 3 report.
In May and June, the iPhone 4S was the top-selling device at AT&T, Verizon Wireless and Sprint. On June 21 the Galaxy S III became available in the United States, and by July, it was sharing the title with Apple, leading sales at T-Mobile (which doesn't offer an iPhone) and Verizon while the iPhone continued to dominate at AT&T and Sprint.
In August, the iPhone 4S held on only at AT&T, with the Galaxy S III as the carrier's second-best-selling phone, while the Galaxy S III dominated at Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint. At Verizon, the iPhone 4S was even outsold by the Motorola Razr Maxx, also priced at $199.
While sales of Apple's 10-month-old phone are understandably flagging, Canaccord analysts fully expect an Apple comeback.
"Our checks indicated strong consumer interest in and likely demand for the iPhone 5, and we believe Apple will return to strong No. 1 smartphone share in the U.S. post the iPhone 5 launch," according to the report.
On Sept. 4, Apple sent out invitations to an event on Sept. 12-a date long ago circled on calendars in the industry-at which it's expected to introduce the iPhone 5. If industry expectations continue to hold, Apple will begin selling the device Sept. 21. And if analyst forecasts are correct, Apple will do so in record numbers.
"We anticipate an LTE iPhone 5 with a new hardware form factor will result in record iPhone sales and result in Apple reclaiming top share in the U.S. market," wrote the Canaccord analysts.
"We believe Apple's growing international channels and growing iOS base position Apple for extremely strong December quarter iPhone sales and very strong market-share gains during the important holiday selling season," analysts wrote. "As such, we believe Apple will post very strong December quarter results, regain global smartphone share during the holiday selling season and grow its leading share of industry profits."
Analysts at investment firm Jefferies are also primed for record-setting sales. In an Aug. 17 research note, they wrote that the newest iPhone "will be the biggest handset launch in history."
But until then, the market is Samsung's. The company sold 50.5 million smartphones during the June quarter, according to the Canaccord report, and will continue to dominate through September. Once the iPhone 5 launches, the report noted, "we anticipate Samsung will continue to dominate Android smartphone sales but lose share to Apple during [the fourth quarter of 2012]."
Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster, in a Sept. 4 research note released after the Apple invites reached inboxes, wrote that should Apple indeed begin selling the iPhone Sept. 21, one week of sales could add 5 million more units to Apple's September total, driving it to approximately 28 million units.