Strong sales through the holiday period helped push Apple into a near tie with Samsung as global smartphone shipments reached new record levels for the fourth quarter and 2014 overall.

According to research firm IDC’s worldwide quarterly mobile phone tracker, smartphone vendors shopped some 375.3 million units in the fourth quarter of 2014, up 28.2 per cent over the same quarter one year ago and up 11.9 per cent over Q3. For 2014, some 1.3 billion units were shipped, up 27.6 per cent over smartphone shipments in 2013.

After 11 consecutive quarters in the No. 2 spot behind Samsung, Apple moved into a near tie with Samsung in Q4 thanks to the success of its new iPhone 6/6+ models – closing the gap to just 600,000 units. IDC said with continue sales strength, Apple could surpass Samsung in 2015, particularly given the pressures on Samsung, such as margin pressure from low cost Android competitors. According to IDC, Samsung needs to either accept lower margins or rethink its high-end strategy to compete with Apple.

“Most of the industry expected an extremely strong holiday quarter from Apple, especially with regards to the iPhone. However, worldwide shipments of 74.5 million units beat everyone’s expectations,” said Ryan Reith, program director with IDC’s worldwide quarterly mobile phone tracker, in a statement.

“Beyond the record-setting quarter, a few impressive things stand out with regard to Apple. First, at a time when average selling prices (ASPs) for smartphone are rapidly declining, Apple managed to increase its reported ASPs in the fourth quarter due to higher-cost new models. Second, the growth of iPhone sales in both the U.S., which is considered a saturated market, and China, which presents the dual challenges of strong local competitors and serious price sensitivity, were remarkable. Sustaining this growth and higher ASPs a year from now could prove challenging, but right now there is no question that Apple is leading the way.”

Three Chinese vendors rounded-out the top five in Q4. Lenovo was a distant third ahead of Huawei, moving up the rankings with the completion of its Motorola acquisition. Xiaomi fell from the third position to fifth, beating out LG.

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