Estimates released on Tuesday by IDC see Samsung as the global market leader in total phone shipments for the first quarter of 2012, wresting the title away from Nokia for the first time since the inception of the research firm's Mobile Phone Tracker in 2004.
Samsung is said to have ridden a wave of growth in the smartphone sector and shipped 93.8 million phones to take 23.5 percent of the worldwide mobile market. Comparatively, former leader Nokia only shipped 11.9 million units while Apple managed 35.1 million iPhones, which accounted for market shares of 20.8 percent and 8.8 percent, respectively.
"The halcyon days of rapid growth in the smartphone market have been good to Samsung," said Kevin Restivo, senior research analyst with IDC's Worldwide Mobile Phone Tracker program. "Samsung has used its established relationships with carriers in a mix of economically diverse markets to gain share organically and at the expense of former high fliers such as Nokia."
Although Samsung doesn't disclose official sales numbers, IDC estimates that the Galaxy S II maker shipped 42.2 million smartphones, a 267 percent increase from 2011's 11.5 million, which accounted for almost half of the company's total phone shipments.
Apple performed well and posted an 88.7 year-over-year change with its 35.1 million iPhone shipments. The Cupertino, Calif., company benefitted from overall growth in the smartphone space as vendors shipped 144.9 million units, a 42.5 percent increase from the year ago quarter 's 101.7 million units.
"The race between Apple and Samsung remained tight during the quarter, even as both companies posted growth in key areas," said IDC Mobile Phone Technology and Trends senior research analyst Ramon Llamas. "Apple launched its popular iPhone 4S in additional key markets, most notably in China, and Samsung experienced continued success from its Galaxy Note smartphone/tablet and other Galaxy smartphones. With other companies in the midst of major strategic transitions, the contest between Apple and Samsung will bear close observation as hotly-anticipated new models are launched."
Research in Motion continued its decline in smartphone market share to hit levels not seen since 2009. The BlackBerry maker shipped 9.7 million units which accounted for a 29.7 percent drop year-to-year.
Nokia's share fell in both the smartphone and overall mobile markets, suffering declines of 50.8 percent and 23.8 percent, respectively. Total mobile phone shipments for the Finnish telecom reached 82.7 million units for the quarter.
Both RIM and Nokia are in transition as the companies try to keep up with major players Apple and Samsung. The Canadian phone maker has started the countdown on the release of its delayed BlackBerry 10 mobile OS, which is hoped to lure customers back to the platform that was once synonymous with enterprise. Nokia and Microsoft's 2011 deal recently bore fruit as the company released its flagship Lumia 900 Windows Phone in its bid to find a foothold after ditching Symbian-based handsets.
The overall mobile phone market slumped 1.5 percent with shipments dipping from 404.3 million in the first quarter of 2011 to 398.4 million units in the last quarter.
The IDC report echoes research from Strategy Analytics which also estimated that Samsung would take a sizable chunk of the smartphone market in the first quarter.
Apple and Samsung are seen as running away with the smartphone market, however, and both are poised to make significant gains in the coming year. The two companies are still locked in a worldwide legal battle that spans 10 countries. Most recently a U.S. judge schedule court-moderated settlement talks for May 21-22, though it remains to be seen whether such a meeting will have any effect on the morass of litigation.