Apple Barely Edged Out Samsung In Q4 Global Sales Thanks To Strong iPhone 7 Demand

Apple iPhone 7

A common criticism of the iPhone 7 is that Apple did not innovate enough with the design or overall set of features. It is an incremental upgrade from the iPhone 6s that is better in a lot of ways and faster, but not very exciting. True as those criticisms are, it did not stop people from rushing out and buying the iPhone 7. In fact, demand for the iPhone 7 is how Apple was able to outsell Samsung in the smartphone category during the fourth quarter of 2016.

Market research firm IDC says the holiday quarter capped off what was another positive year of smartphone growth even though there were concerns about it slowing down. Smartphone vendors collectively shipped 428.5 million handsets in the fourth quarter alone, up 6.9 percent from the 400.7 million phones shipped in the same quarter a year prior. And for the full year, the smartphone market grew by 1.47 billion units shipped, which is the most shipments in a single year in the history of mobile phones.

IDC Smartphone Chart

Apple was the primary beneficiary of all this smartphone growth. IDC says the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus are responsible for Apple's rise to the top. Even though Apple saw a 7 percent year-on-year decline in iPhone shipments, it shipped a record 78.3 million units in the fourth quarter, which accounted for 18.3 percent of all phone shipments in Q4. Meanwhile, Samsung fell to second place with 77.5 million units shipped, giving it an 18.1 percent share of the market for the quarter.

"Although the iPhone 7 did not feature a drastically different industrial design from its predecessor, it did bring yet another significantly improved processor, more robust camera, water resistance, and new color/finish options. Much like Samsung, all eyes will be on Apple's next flagship, and all signs point to something very special for the tenth anniversary of this iconic product," IDC said.

Samsung undoubtedly was hurt by its Galaxy Note 7 recall, though in spite of that it only fell to second place behind Apple, and not by much. The market responded well to Samsung's Galaxy S7 flagship and its J-series of devices. Looking ahead, Samsung will have an opportunity to reclaim the No. 1 spot when it releases its highly anticipated Galaxy S8 handset. That is expected to happen sometime after Mobile World Congress as Samsung is taking a bit of extra time to rigorously test the batteries to avoid another recall.