According to the latest report from Strategy Analytics, Apple has now overtaken Samsung to become the world’s largest smartphone vendor by volume. Apple achieved 23.9% market share during Q4 2011, narrowly beating out Samsung’s 23.5% share.

In addition, Apple shipped 37 million units in Q4, again going neck-and-neck with Samsung and its 36.5 million units shipped during the same time.

However, notes Neil Mawston, Executive Director at Strategy Analytics, “while Apple took the top spot in smartphones on a quarterly basis, Samsung became the market leader in annual terms for the first time with 20% global share during 2011.” Apple’s annual share, meanwhile, was 19%.

In other words, Apple won the quarter, not the year.

Smartphone global shipments reached nearly half a billion units in 2011 (488.5 million units), the firm found, turning the smartphone battle into a two-horse race between Apple and Samsung in terms of units shipped.

Nokia, the one-time smartphone leader, is still holding onto a top spot, in position #3, with 19.6 million units shipped during Q4 and 77.3 million shipped during 2011. But Nokia’s global share has been halved from 33% in 2010 to just 16% in 2011, indicating its ongoing decline.

Although Strategy’s numbers paint the Samsung vs. Apple battle as a tight race between mobile giants, there’s a big difference between the numbers being reported here. As MacRumors points out, Samsung no longer reports its mobile phone sales numbers, while Apple discloses its units sold each quarter. That means analysts are estimating Samsung’s numbers, but Apple’s numbers are provided by the company itself. It could be that Apple’s lead is even greater than what’s seen here.

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