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Apple reclaims title of world's largest smartphone maker after blowout quarter

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Apple overtook Samsung in the fourth quarter of 2011 to grab the top spot among global smartphone makers, earning 23.9 percent of the market with sales of 37 million iPhones, according to one set of estimates.

Shortly after rival Samsung officially reported its quarterly results on Thursday, market research firm Strategy Analytics released a report proclaiming Apple the victor in the latest round of the smartphone wars. Apple's win was supported by just a narrow lead, however, as Samsung shipped an estimated 36.5 million units worldwide in the fourth quarter.

The South Korean consumer electronics maker declined to say how many smartphones it shipped last quarter, but it did note 30 percent growth, roughly in line with analyst expectations. As such, Samsung managed to capture its first crown for annual smartphone shipments with an estimated 97.4 million units, compared to Apple's 93 million iPhones in 2011.

"With global smartphone shipments nearing half a billion units in 2011, Samsung is now well positioned alongside Apple in a two-horse race at the forefront of one of the world’s largest and most valuable consumer electronics markets,” said Strategy Analytics Executive Director Neil Mawston.

Nokia took third place with estimated quarterly shipments of 19.6 million, enough for a 12.6 percent market share. The Finnish handset maker has seen its market share plunge during its transition from Symbian to Windows Phone. In the year ago quarter, Nokia shipped 28.3 million smartphones.

Smartphone market share Q4 2011
Numbers are rounded. | Source: Strategy Analytics

Total smartphone shipments for the quarter grew 55 percent year over year to reach a record 155 million, while annual shipments were an estimated 488.5 million units.

Apple first took the top spot among worldwide smartphone makers last June, but without its usual iPhone refresh last summer, it conceded the title to Samsung in the third quarter.

The Cupertino, Calif., company more than made up for the September quarter when it announced on Tuesday impressive results for the December quarter. Apple reported record quarterly revenue of $46.33 billion and profits of $13.06 billion, driven largely by sales of 37.04 million iPhones.

As Apple and Samsung have become the new smartphone powerhouses, their rivalry has extended to the courtroom. The two are locked in a complicated legal battle with multiple complaints spanning several different countries.