Sorry Samsung, Apple's probably the smartphone king

Apple's Q4 2014 may not only have been its best quarter ever for iPhone sales, but the point at which it overtook arch-rival Samsung in the smartphone business. The Cupertino firm announced a massive 74.5m iPhone sales in the final three months of last year, setting itself a new record and – according to at least one research firm – putting it on at least level-pegging with Samsung. The South Korean company has played coy with its Galaxy numbers, but it's clear that Apple's rapid ascent has dramatically closed (if not destroyed) the gap between the two.

Samsung announced its own financial results yesterday, reporting 95 million mobile handsets shipped. Of that, around 70-percent were smartphones, the company hedged.

That works out to between 71m and 75m overall Samsung smartphones in the quarter, suggesting that only if the company hit the very top of its "high 70-percent" estimate would it still be ahead of Apple.

Adding to the murky waters are the differing definitions of what constitutes a sale. Apple's figures are sales to end-users; however, when Samsung says "sold" it actually means "shipped", a factor that could significantly change the company's outlook.

If those shipped devices are sitting in retailer's warehouses and stockrooms, for instance, rather than in the pockets and purses of actual users, the total number of smartphones legitimately "sold" might be considerably less.

Without solid numbers to go on, we're left with educated guesstimates. Strategy Analytics takes the middle path, suggesting both Apple and Samsung sold 74.5m phones and are now level-pegging for the "biggest smartphone vendor" crown.

For 2014 as a whole, the analysts say, Samsung was still the smartphone top dog. However, it may prove trickier to maintain that record in 2015, particularly given Apple's astonishing performance in China

"Samsung may soon have to consider taking over rivals, such as Blackberry, in order to revitalize growth this year," Strategy Analytics concludes.

Samsung has predicted lower sales in Q1 2015, since the quarter lacks holiday demand.

SOURCE Strategy Analytics