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Apple's iPhone grows to 5.5% share of all mobile phone sales

The iPhone accounted for 5.5 percent of all mobile phone sales in the third quarter of 2012, making Apple the third-largest handset maker in the world.

Worldwide sales of mobile phones to end users reached almost 428 million units in the third quarter of 2012, research firm Gartner revealed in a new report on Wednesday. While overall mobile phone sales were down 3.1 percent, smartphone sales were up 47 percent year over year.

The growth of smartphones helped Apple, as the iPhone expanded from its 3.9 percent share in the year-ago quarter. Apple's total 23.5 million iPhones sold to end users came without offering any "feature phones" still sold by rivals Samsung and Nokia.

Those low-cost, low-profit phones offered by Nokia helped those companies take the first two spots in terms of market share in the third quarter. Samsung accounted for 22.9 percent of mobile phone sales, while Nokia took 19.2 percent.

Though Gartner didn't provide an extensive breakdown of smartphone sales by manufacturer, the research firm did reveal that Apple and Samsung collectively accounted for 46.5 percent of smartphone sales in the quarter. Anshul Gupta, principal research analyst at Gartner, said Apple and Samsung's market dominance left "a handful of vendors fighting over a distant third spot."

Finishing in third place was Research in Motion, while HTC was said to be not far behind in fourth place. Both companies have seen their sales decline in recent quarters, and Gupta suggested they would struggle to hold their rankings going forward.

Gartner also broke down smartphone sales by mobile platform, and found that Apple's iOS accounted for 13.9 percent of the smartphone operating system market share, placing it firmly in second place.

Apple's 13.9 percent was enough to put it well ahead of Research in Motion's 5.3 percent share. But Apple was also well behind Google's market dominating Android platform, which accounted for 72.4 percent of the smartphone market in the third quarter of 2012.

Gartner analysts are particularly bullish on the anticipated launch of Apple's iPhone 5 in China in the current quarter. The firm expects that the holiday quarter will be Apple's strongest, as it has traditionally been for the company.