For the first time ever, the iPhone was the most popular phone in the U.S. during the fourth quarter of 2012. Apple(s aapl) sold 17.7 million smartphones during the quarter, just barely edging out Samsung, which sold 16.8 million mobile phones during the same quarter, according to Strategy Analytics’ Wireless Device Strategy report published Friday. All told, 52 million phones were sold in the U.S. between October and December, and Apple and Samsung dominated the competition: together they sold two out of every three phones.
The iPhone’s distinction as most popular phone during the quarter comes on Apple’s strength: holiday sales. However, for all of 2012 Samsung still bested all others including Apple — for the fifth year in a row — selling 53 million handsets, and maintaining a 32 percent share. Apple’s full year share of sales was 26.2 percent.
You’ll note that this chart is, somewhat unusually, only comparing three vendors: Apple, Samsung, LG and then “others.” But that essentially sums up the state of the U.S. smartphone market: Apple versus Samsung, and that’s about it.
Apple’s 34 percent share of U.S. smartphones — all Apple phones are considered smartphones — sales during the fourth quarter is not likely to be a pattern we’ll see repeated outside non-holiday quarters: Samsung puts out many different models of phones throughout the year, compared to Apple’s single annual refresh, and barring something catastrophic happening at Samsung, it’s is likely to continue as the biggest mobile phone vendor in the U.S. for 2013.
What could boost Apple’s chances of overtaking Samsung outside of holiday sales is if Apple started releasing multiple models of iPhones to reach many more new customers, either through more price options, new subscription options, as T-Mobile is planning, or more screen size choice — as some estimate could start as soon as this year.