Apple has overtaken Samsung as the world's largest smartphone maker

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Apple will become the world's top smartphone maker for the first time in 2023, ending Samsung's 12-year reign as the industry leader as consumers trade up to more expensive handsets.

The iPhone maker was the only major handset maker to post annual unit growth last year, with 2023 shipments up 3.7 percent to 234.6 million, ahead of Samsung's 226.6 million, according to research group IDC.

That improvement from Apple was the smartphone market's worst in a decade, with device shipments falling 3.2 percent to 1.17 billion units, ITC said.

Measured by revenue and profit, Apple has long been the top smartphone maker. But last year it was the first, leading in terms of block.

Samsung, which is preparing to launch its flagship Galaxy S24 model this week, reported a 13.6 percent drop in shipments last year as Huawei regained share in China and makers of cheaper Android handsets posted strong growth.

In particular, Chinese manufacturer Transsion – whose brands Tecno, Infinix and itel have made it Africa's dominant smartphone company – grew by 30.8 percent last year, placing it in the top five behind Xiaomi and Oppo.

“In 2023, Samsung focused on the mid-to-high-end segment for profit, but lost share in the low-end segment and its leading position in the global market,” said Amber Liu, manager of research group Canalys. Apple was the market leader last year in figures released on Tuesday.

Canalys said smartphone shipments rose 8 percent year over year in the fourth quarter, reversing seven consecutive quarters of declines as demand from holiday shoppers improved.

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Apple lost its position as the world's most valuable public company to archrival Microsoft on Friday as Wall Street fretted about the outlook for iPhone sales in China.

However, Apple's iPhone sales rose 11.6 percent in the fourth quarter following the launch of its latest models in September, according to ITC figures released on Monday.

The smartphone market rankings have changed beyond recognition since Samsung took the top spot in 2011, when Nokia, LG and BlackBerry led the market.

As smartphone technology matures and new features increase, consumers upgrade their everyday devices less than they used to.

But as consumers replace their phones, they're choosing more expensive and capable devices — something Apple, which has raised iPhone prices in recent years, is benefiting greatly.

“Apple's current success and resilience is due to the growing trend of premium devices, which now represent more than 20 percent of the market, fueled by aggressive trade-in offers and interest-free financing programs,” Nabila Bhopal said. Director at IDC.

“Although we see some strong growth from low-end Android players such as Transsion and Xiaomi in the second half of 2023, stemming from the rapid growth of emerging markets, the biggest winner is clearly Apple,” Bhopal added.

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