Holiday seasonality, strong end-user demand, and a deep selection of models propelled smartphone volumes to a new record level for the quarter and for the year.
According to preliminary data from the International Data Corporation (IDC) Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker, smartphone vendors shipped a total of 375.2 million units during the fourth quarter of 2014 (4Q14), resulting in 28.2% growth when compared to the 292.7 million units shipped in 4Q13 and 11.9% sequential growth above the 335.3 million units shipped in 3Q14.
For the full year, the worldwide smartphone market saw a total of 1,301.1 million units shipped, up 27.6% from the 1,019.4 million units shipped in 2013.
Having spent 11 quarters prior to 4Q14 as the number two smartphone vendor in terms of shipments, Apple managed to close the gap to a near tie with Samsung in 4Q14.
Led by the success of its newer, larger iPhone 6/6+ models, Apple reduced the volume gap to just 600,000 units in the fourth quarter.
Despite being far more profitable for quite some time, Apple's shipment volumes trailed Samsung's by more than 33 million units during the same quarter a year ago. Continued success from Apple, coupled with the ongoing challenges facing Samsung, could enable Apple to overtake Samsung during the 2015 calendar year.
Samsung's challenges have not only come from Apple, but also from the increasing number of low-cost Android OEMs that are putting out products at much lower margins.
In order for Samsung to regain its share at the top, IDC believes it will either have to accept lower margins from here forward or revamp its high-end strategy to compete with Apple.
"Most of the industry expected an extremely strong holiday quarter from Apple, especially with regards to the iPhone," says Ryan Reith, Program Director, IDC's Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker.
"However, worldwide shipments of 74.5 million units beat everyone's expectations.
"Beyond the record-setting quarter, a few impressive things stand out with regard to Apple."