Apple claims global smartphone market lead ahead of Samsung for first time since 2016

iPhone 12 Mini and iPhone 12 Pro Max.

Todd Haselton | CNBC

Apple shipped more smartphones than any other company during the fourth quarter of 2020, according to data released by market research firm Gartner on Monday.

The tech giant shipped nearly 80 million units in the quarter, surpassing all other smartphone makers, including Samsung. It’s the first time Apple has been atop the smartphone market since 2016, the report said.

Apple’s strong holiday quarter and the new Gartner estimates suggest the company’s family of iPhone 12 devices, with 5G capability and a new external design, is a hit in the marketplace. Those new devices weren’t even on sale for the entire period.

The numbers also indicate Apple has weathered the coronavirus pandemic better than its competitors.

A competing report from IDC released last month showed Apple shipped 90.1 million phones in the quarter. In terms of smartphone shipments, that’s the single best quarter for any company, IDC’s report said.

Apple doesn’t report unit sales for its devices. However, the company said revenue from iPhones grew by 17% in the fourth quarter of calendar 2020 on a year-over-year basis to $65.6 billion. Apple’s business is seasonal, and the quarter ending in December is usually the company’s biggest in terms of sales.

Global smartphone shipments fell 5.4% in 2020 amid the global coronavirus pandemic, according to Gartner, while Apple’s unit sales grew by 3.3%. Samsung still shipped the most devices over a full year.

The biggest shipments decline came from Huawei, which saw unit sales drop by 24.1% in 2020, as the Chinese smartphone maker struggles with U.S. sanctions that have hampered its handset business. Samsung doesn’t face the same challenge but still saw shipments fall 14.6% last year, according to Gartner.

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