The iPhone is No. 1: What does it mean for users?

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Apple is winning the smartphone race and climbing the ranks of overall cell phone makers, according to new numbers from IDC and Strategy Analytics released late on Thursday. So now that Apple has passed Nokia to become the No. 1 smartphone maker worldwide, what benefits can its customers hope to receive?

1. An ever-growing software library

Apple’s iPhone has been a hit with developers since before official third-party app support even launched. But now that it has the top honor among hardware makers, it’s more or less guaranteed that high-quality iOS software development will be of a level that competitors find even harder to match. Having the widest reach and being the most viable route for making money will do that.

2. Greater component control leads to lower prices

Apple’s ability to command good prices from suppliers grows as its smartphone business expands. It can place even larger orders, more effectively stocking its own coffers and leaving competitors high and dry. This means that the supply-level savings it can command will either trickle down to the consumer or, maybe more likely, that Apple will be able to equip future iPhone models with more-sophisticated technology sooner than its competition, who don’t benefit as much from a high-volume business that can offset per-unit costs.

3. Continuing efforts to stay on top

Apple wasn’t the only star of the show in yesterday’s reports. Samsung’s growth, especially when measured year over year (from 5.0 to 17.5 percent market share), was nothing short of astounding. If it remains on course, it could take away Apple’s newly won crown as the world’s top smartphone maker. But that’s a big if. First, Apple is set to deliver the iPhone 5 within the coming months, which is sure to change the mobile landscape once again. Second, Apple has expressed interest in pursuing lower-cost additions to the iPhone line, which would surely broaden its appeal. Recent rumors suggest such a device may arrive soon, and the timing is right; pre-paid plans are becoming more popular, and a cheap iPhone would likely have a considerable effect on Samsung’s advance.

For Apple, reaching the top spot is a virtue unto itself, in terms of the value to the brand and to stockholders. But it’s also a win for anyone who owns an iPhone now or is planning to own one in the future. For that reason, Apple fans should hope this victory isn’t short-lived.

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