Apple beat Samsung in the smartphone wars, but Huawei is closing in

Huawei Mate 9. (Source: Huawei)

Apple knocked off Samsung as the most popular smartphone brand in the fourth quarter of 2016, according to technology research firm Gartner.

Samsung had reigned supreme in the number 1 spot for two years, but Apple regained the crown in the latest Gartner survey. In a period that saw Samsung continue to deal with the troubles from the fire-prone Galaxy Note 7, Apple took 17.9% of market share with 77 million handsets sold while its Korean rival took 17.8%.

“The last time Apple was in the leading position was in the fourth quarter of 2014, when its sales were driven by its first ever large-screen iPhone 6 and 6 Plus,” said Gartner research director Anshul Gupta.

With just 256,000 handsets the difference between the two, the race between the two brands is closer than ever and could even be called a virtual tie for the quarter ending December 31.

The third quarter of 2016 saw Samsung cop its worst ever Gartner smartphone sales survey as it made its first Galaxy Note 7 recall. Samsung then made a second recall and a complete withdrawal of the device in the fourth quarter.

“The decision to discontinue the Galaxy Note 7 slowed down sales of its smartphone portfolio in the fourth quarter,” said Gupta. “The withdrawal of the Galaxy Note 7 left a gap in its large-screen phone range.”

Apple made hay while all that was going on, and had a spectacular 6.4% rise in market share for the fourth quarter after having a very ordinary third quarter.

“This time it achieved it thanks to strong sales of its flagship phones — the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus. It also benefited from the weakened demand for Samsung’s smartphones in mature markets such as North America and Western Europe, and in some mature markets in Asia such as Australia and South Korea,” Gupta said.

Apple’s roaring comeback defies Gartner’s predictions in November, when research director Roberta Cozza said the Samsung Galaxy Note 7’s withdrawal would have minimal benefit for Apple.

Gartner stated that Samsung was also under fire in the mid- and budget-level smartphone market, with increasing competition from Chinese manufacturers like Huawei and Oppo. Huawei, which came within three percentage points of Apple in the third quarter, grew its market share again – to now hold 8.9% and third place on the ladder.

“Huawei introduced Mate 9 during the quarter — within a month of Samsung discontinuing the Galaxy Note 7 — which was good timing to position it as an alternative,” Gupta said, adding that Huawei was well set to close the gap even further with the Mate 7 now being delivered with the Amazon Alexa voice assistant.

Oppo came in fourth globally, thanks to its number one position in the massive Chinese market. It sold 26.7 million units in the fourth quarter to take 6.2% of the international smartphone pie.

In the overall yearly rankings, Samsung won 2016 comfortably by taking 20.5% of all smartphone sales. Apple was a distant runner-up, grabbing 14.4% of the market.

NOW WATCH: Tech Insider videos

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.