iPhone Sales Help Push Smartphone Market to Record Levels

Samsung remained the leader in the worldwide smartphone market for the quarter and for the year, but Apple reached a quarterly shipment record in Q4.

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A combination of strong demand for Apple’s iPhone 6 handsets, the holiday shopping season and a broad selection of phones at different price points propelled smartphone volumes to a new record level for the fourth quarter of 2014 and for the year, according to reports from IDC and Juniper Research.

Smartphone vendors shipped a total of 375.2 million units during the fourth quarter of 2014 (4Q14), resulting in 28.2 percent growth when compared to the 292.7 million units shipped in the same period in 2013 and 11.9 percent sequential growth above the 335.3 million units shipped in the third quarter of 2014.

Samsung remained the leader in the worldwide smartphone market for the quarter and for the year, but Apple reached a new quarterly shipment record in 4Q14 and fell just short of surpassing its rival for overall leadership in the smartphone market.

Juniper reported Samsung shipped an estimated 315 million smartphones in 2014, accounting for 25 percent of all smartphone shipments; however, the company reported its first annual earnings decline in three years.

The company witnessed another quarterly fall in shipments and market share, to just over 76 million in the fourth quarter, representing a 3 percent decline.

An elevated consumer appetite for big-screen devices, as well as Apple's push into China and other countries, saw iPhone sales up 44 percent in the U.S. and up 97 percent in the four major emerging markets—Brazil, Russia, India and China, also known as the BRIC market, according to IDC.

Apple also managed to double year-over-year iPhone sales in China, Brazil and Singapore. Juniper estimated that the number of smartphone shipments exceeded 375 million in the fourth quarter of the year, with an annual total of over 1.2 billion smartphones shipped for 2014, representing a 29 percent year-over-year growth.

On the back of Apple’s astounding revelation that it sold 75 million iPhones in the fourth quarter, a figure CEO Tim Cook said was "hard to comprehend," Juniper noted the reception of the iPhone 6 Plus has indicated a large potential for Apple phablets and is expected to further accelerate the trend to smartphones with larger displays.

However, the report also cautioned that the potential releases from budget vendors could outpace their expansion and reduce Apple’s overall market share in the category over time.

Nonetheless, Juniper estimates Apple will account for 30 percent of the phablets (5.5-to-6.9-inch-screen) market in 2015.

The company recently predicted that more than 400 million phablets will ship in 2019, a fivefold increase over the 138 million devices estimated to be shipped in 2015.

Among other vendors, Lenovo-Motorola combined is estimated to have shipped more than 90 million smartphones in 2014, managing to improve its market share to just over 7 percent.

Microsoft, meanwhile, reported 10.5 million Lumia shipments in Q4 2014, driven by low-cost models, and Huawei improved its market share year-over-year, shipping over 70 million smartphones in 2014, with the Honor line of devices accounting for nearly 28 percent of the total.

While year-over-year growth did slow from 40.5 percent in 2013 to 27.6 percent in 2014, as IDC report noted, this past year volumes surpassed 1.3 billion units.

The report maintained that while growth is forecast to decline to the mid-teens in 2015, opportunity exists, as much of the world's population is either not a wireless subscriber or has yet to move to a smartphone.