Samsung remained the leader in the worldwide smartphone market for the quarter and for the year, but nonetheless experienced continued competitive realities.
With increased pressure in the high-end from Apple, and at the low-end to midrange from Chinese manufacturers Xiaomi, Huawei, ZTE, and others, Samsung faces a multi-front battle.
To this end, Samsung has streamlined its operations and product portfolio to become more competitive in the market.
Apple reached a new quarterly shipment record in 4Q14 and fell just short of surpassing Samsung for overall leadership in the smartphone market.
An elevated consumer appetite for big-screen devices, as well as Apple's push into China and other countries, saw iPhone sales up 44% in the U.S. and up 97% in the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China).
Sales doubled year-over-year in China, Brazil, and Singapore. What remains to be seen is how long Apple can sustain this runaway growth.
Lenovo was a distant third in the fourth quarter, narrowly edging out Huawei thanks to the completion of the Motorola acquisition earlier in the quarter.
Lenovo continued to dominate the sub-$150 handset market in China with a vast portfolio of devices including the popular Golden Warriors S8 and more expensive flagship Vibe Z2 pro.
Lenovo has recently announced that it will bring the Motorola brand back to China in 2015, starting with the Moto X next month.
Huawei returned to the list of top 5 worldwide vendors, emphasizing its midrange and high-end smartphones (P Series and Mate Series respectively), and saw continued success with its Honor line.
Huawei attributed its 2014 success to improved brand awareness and overall customer experience, which it will look to evolve even further in 2015.
Xiaomi fell from the third position to fifth in 4Q14, beating out LG for the final spot among the top 5.
Even though volumes declined slightly from 3Q14 levels, Xiaomi posted the largest year-over-year growth of all the leading vendors, thanks to a solid demand within its home country of China and a steady release of new devices, including the Mi4 LTE.
Xiaomi's grip on the number 5 spot is tenuous at best, with LG and ZTE following close behind.