Apple’s iPhone is more popular than ever

Apple became the world’s top smartphone vendor during the fourth quarter of 2011, with an impressive market share of 23.8%. 

Cupertino was also ranked the top smartphone vendor for 2011 as a whole, with a cool 19% market share – and was declared the third-largest mobile phone vendor in the world as it overtook rival LG. 

“Western Europe and North America led most of the smartphone growth for Apple during the fourth quarter of 2011,” confirmed Gartner principal analyst Roberta Cozza.

“In Western Europe the spike in iPhone sales in the fourth quarter saved the overall smartphone market after two consecutive quarters of slow sales.”

According to Coza, the quarter saw both Samsung and Apple further cement their positions further at the top of the market, while LG, Sony Ericsson, Motorola and Research In Motion (RIM) recorded disappointing results as they struggled to improve volumes and profits.

Similarly, Nokia’s mobile phone sales numbered 111.7 million units, an 8.7 percent decrease from last year.

“Samsung closed the gap with Nokia in overall market share – [and] profited from strong smartphone sales of 34 million units in the fourth quarter of 2011. The troubled economic environment in Europe and Nokia’s weakened brand status posed challenges that were hard to overcome in just one quarter,” said Cozza. 

“However, Nokia proved its ability to execute and deliver on time with its new Lumia 710 and 800 handsets. Nokia will have to continue to offer aggressive prices to encourage communications service providers (CSPs) to add its products to portfolios currently dominated by Android-based devices.”

As noted above, Apple posted an exceptional fourth quarter, selling 35.5 million smartphones to end users, a 121.4% increase year on year, despite increased competition between Google’s Android and iOS.

Interestingly enough, Android’s share declined slightly sequentially, which Gartner attributes to strong iPhone sales – driven by the iPhone 4S in mature markets and the weakness of key Android vendors as they struggle to create unique and differentiated devices. 

Although iOS’s market share grew 8 percentage points year-on-year, Gartner analysts expect Apple’s share to drop in the next couple of quarters as the upgrade cycle to the iPhone 4S slows.