Samsung should send Google (GOOG) a thank-you note for developing the Android operating system. The South Korean electronics giant has taken the free-to-use, open-source software and built a massive smartphone business around it.
In the fourth quarter, Samsung accounted for 31.1% of smartphone sales worldwide, putting it in the lead, research firm Gartner reported Wednesday. Apple (AAPL), which uses its proprietary iOS operating system in its iPhone handsets, followed with 20.9% market share. China's Huawei Technologies leapfrogged from fifth place to third over BlackBerry (BBRY) and Taiwan's HTC, the previous No. 3 and No. 4 vendors, respectively.
Google's Android, used by many makers, dominates the global smartphone market with a 69.7% share, followed by Apple-only iOS. Among Android vendors, Samsung was No. 1 with 42.5% market share in Q4. Huawei was a distant No. 2, at 6%.
"The Android brand is being overshadowed by Samsung's brand, with the Galaxy name nearly a synonym for Android phones in consumers' mind share," Gartner analyst Anshul Gupta said in a statement.
In Q4, Samsung sold 64.5 million smartphones, up 85.3% from a year earlier. Apple iPhone sales rose 22.6% to 43.5 million units, Gartner said.
Samsung also leads the total mobile phone market, which includes feature phones and smartphones. In Q4, it had 22.7% market share, up from 19.6% a year earlier. Nokia (NOK) followed with an 18% share, down from 23.4%. Apple was in third with a 9.2% share, up from 7.4%.
Cell Phone Sales FallGlobal mobile phone sales to end users fell 1.7% in 2012 to 1.75 billion units in 2012, Gartner said, the first decline since 2009.
"Tough economic conditions, shifting consumer preferences and intense market competition weakened the worldwide mobile phone market (last) year," Gupta said.
Gartner predicts mobile phone sales will reach 1.9 billion units worldwide in 2013, including nearly 1 billion smartphones.
Smartphones accounted for 44% of mobile phone sales in Q4 .
"2013 will be the year of the rise of the third ecosystem as the battle between the new BlackBerry 10 and (Microsoft's (MSFT) Windows phone intensifies," Gupta said. "As carriers and vendors feel the pressure of the strong Android's growth, alternative operating systems such as Tizen, Firefox, Ubuntu and Jolla will try to carve out an opportunity by positioning themselves as profitable alternatives.
Apple shares fell 89 cents to 467.01 Wednesday.
BlackBerry sank 8% amid concerns about sales of its latest handsets in other countries.
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