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The new data comes from Gartner's latest market share report, covering both the fourth quarter of calendar 2011 as well as all of 2011. The figures show Apple as the top smartphone vendor for all of 2011, with a 19 percent share, while it represented 23.8 percent of all smartphones sold worldwide in the fourth quarter alone.
Apple's share of smartphone sales was so large that Apple also moved up to become the No. 3 company in terms of all mobile phone sales, even though Apple does not sell any low-end "feature phones." Apple's success moved it ahead of LG, leaving only Nokia, in first, and Samsung, in second, ahead of it.
"Western Europe and North America led most of the smartphone growth for Apple during the fourth quarter of 2011," said Roberta Cozza, principal research analyst at Gartner. "In Western Europe the spike in iPhone sales in the fourth quarter saved the overall smartphone market after two consecutive quarters of slow sales."
Total smartphone sales in 2011 were 472 million units, accounting for 31 percent of all mobile device sales. Gartner said that Apple sold 89.2 million units to end users in calendar 2011, good for a 5 percent share of the total mobile phone market.
Gartner expects Apple's strong performance to continue into the first quarter of 2012, as availability of the iPhone 4S continues to widen. Still, sales are expected to decline quarter to quarter, as hype from the iPhone 4S launch dies down.
In terms of mobile operating systems, Google Android remained the top dog in the fourth quarter of 2011, with a 50.9 percent total market share. Apple's iOS, which is only available on three smartphone models with the iPhone 4S, iPhone 4 and iPhone 3GS, took second place with 23.8 percent of units.
The iOS platform actually grew 8 percent year over year from the holiday period in 2010. But Gartner expects that Apple's mobile operating system share will drop in the coming quarter as the iPhone 4S upgrade cycle slows.
In third behind Apple was Nokia's Symbian, which was found on 11.7 percent of smartphones sold in the fourth quarter of 2011. Research in Motion took fourth with 8.8 percent, Samsung's Bada was in fifth with 2.1 percent, and Microsoft's Windows Phone platform took sixth with 1.9 percent.