Apple claims top spot, outshining Samsung in 2023 smartphone sales

Apple, a longtime leader in smartphone revenue and profits, has now taken the lead in global smartphone sales by volume, surpassing Samsung.
18 January 2024

In 2023, Apple surpassed Samsung to become the world’s largest smartphone manufacturer by volume, ending the latter’s 12-year streak. (Photo by Patrick T. Fallon/AFP).

  • In 2023, Apple surpassed Samsung to become the world’s largest smartphone manufacturer by volume.
  • Apple’s success was driven by consumers opting for higher-end models, prioritizing durability and features over price.
  • In the past year, Samsung shifted focus to the mid and high-end markets for greater profitability.

Over the past decade, Apple and Samsung have been locked in a fierce smartphone industry rivalry, constantly vying for dominance. With its iPhone series, Apple has consistently set trends while Samsung focused on delivering various devices to cater to multiple market segments. This intense competition has led to a see-saw battle for market share, with each company striving to outdo the other in design, features, and technological advancements. 

The race for consumer loyalty and the title of “the world’s top smartphone manufacturer” has fueled a continuous cycle of innovation and product evolution, making their rivalry one of the defining narratives in the ever-evolving landscape of mobile technology.

Then came 2023, when Apple finally outperformed Samsung in global smartphone sales – for the first time since 2010.

The iPhone dethroned Samsung Galaxy to become the best-selling smartphone series globally, marking a notable shift in the industry’s competitive landscape. According to preliminary data from the International Data Corporation (IDC) Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Trackerthe iPhone accounted for a substantial fifth of the global smartphone market, with nearly 235 million shipments in the past year. 

“The last time a company not named Samsung was at the top of the smartphone market was 2010, and for 2023, it is now Apple. A shifting of power at the top of the largest consumer electronics market was driven by Apple’s all-time high market share and a first time at the top,” IDC’s report reads. In other words, the unprecedented market share demonstrates Apple’s ability to capture a significant portion of consumer demand, and solidifies its position as a frontrunner in the highly competitive smartphone industry.

Apple’s dominance during the holiday quarter has been a recurring theme recently. However, its unprecedented lead over Samsung throughout the year indicates that Apple is navigating the challenges of an industrywide slump more effectively than its competitors.

Apple vs Samsung: a decade-defying achievement

While Samsung remains a formidable player in the smartphone market, its shipments experienced a double-digit slump in 2023, totaling 226.6 million. “The overall shift in ranking at the top of the market further highlights the intensity of competition within the smartphone market,” said Ryan Reith, group VP with IDC’s Worldwide Mobility and Consumer Device Trackers. 

The iPhone sold more than Samsung’s devices globally in 2023. Source: Bloomberg.

The iPhone sold more than Samsung’s devices globally in 2023. Source: Bloomberg.

Reith believes that Apple certainly played a part in Samsung’s drop in rank, but also that the overall Android space is diversifying. “Huawei is back and making inroads quickly within China. Brands like OnePlus, Honor, Google, and others are launching very competitive devices in the lower price range of the high-end foldable, and increased discussions around AI capabilities on the smartphone are gaining traction. Overall, the smartphone space is headed towards an exciting time,” he added.

Apple’s surpassing Samsung in global smartphone sales signifies a crucial moment in the industry rivalry. It highlights the enduring popularity of the iPhone series and Apple’s ability to connect with a diverse global audience – though it’s reasonable to ask why this is the first time in over a decade it’s beaten Samsung to the punch. Consumers can expect more innovations and intense competition between these tech giants as the smartphone landscape evolves.

Global smartphone sales

Apple vs Samsung - the battle continues. Source: IDC Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker, January 15, 2024.

Apple vs Samsung – the battle continues. Source: IDC Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker, January 15, 2024.

Overall, IDC said the global smartphone market remains challenged, but momentum is moving quickly toward recovery. According to initial findings, 2023 witnessed a 3.2% decline in global smartphone shipments, reaching 1.17 billion units. It is also the lowest full-year volume in a decade, primarily driven by macroeconomic challenges and elevated inventory early in the year.

The latter half of the year though brought a surge, solidifying expectations for a robust recovery in 2024. IDC noted that the fourth quarter saw 8.5% year-over-year growth and 326.1 million shipments, higher than the forecast of 7.3% growth. “While we saw some strong growth from low-end Android players like Transsion and Xiaomi in the second half of 2023, stemming from rapid growth in emerging markets, the biggest winner is clearly Apple,” said Nabila Popal, research director with IDC’s Worldwide Tracker team. 

“Not only is Apple the only player in the Top 3 to show positive growth annually, but it also bags the number 1 spot annually for the first time. All this despite facing increased regulatory challenges and renewed competition from Huawei in China, its largest market. Apple’s ongoing success and resilience is largely due to the increasing trend of premium devices, which now represent over 20% of the market, fueled by aggressive trade-in offers and interest-free financing plans.”