Samsung beat Apple to the top position in the smartphone market in the July-September quarter, taking a 23.8 percent share of the global market to Apple's 14.6 percent, according to data released by research firm Strategy Analytics.
In the April to June quarter, Apple sold the most smartphones, with an 18.5 percent market share.
In the July-September quarter, Nokia was third with a 14.4 percent share. It continues as the largest vendor of mobile handsets, but with a reduced share of about 27 percent in the third quarter, as its global handset shipments were down 3 percent year-on-year to about 107 million units, according to data released by both IDC and Strategy Analytics on Thursday. Samsung and LG Electronics took the second and third place respectively in the mobile handset market, while China's ZTE overtook Apple to become the world's fourth largest handset vendor.
Apple became the world's largest smartphone vendor by volume with 18.5 percent market share in the second quarter, ahead of Samsung and Nokia, according to Strategy Analytics. Samsung also overtook Nokia in the second quarter to become the world's second largest smartphone vendor with a 17.5 percent share to Nokia's 15.2 percent.
Samsung shipped 27.8 million smartphones in the third quarter, up from 7.5 million units in the same quarter last year, while Apple shipped 17.1 million units as customers and operators waited for the fourth-quarter launch of the iPhone 4S amidst stiff competition from Samsung's Galaxy S2 model, and volatile economic conditions in several key countries, Strategy Analytics said.
Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Global smartphone shipments grew 44 percent annually to reach a record 117 million units in the third quarter, Strategy Analytics said.
Apple launched the iPhone 4S on Oct. 14, and said it had sold over four million units in just three days after the launch.
Samsung's rise has been driven by a blend of elegant hardware designs, popular Android services, memorable sub-brands and extensive global distribution, according to Strategy Analytics.
In the third quarter of last year, Samsung had a 9.3 percent share of the smartphone market to Apple's 17.4 percent. Nokia, which had a 32.7 percent share in the third quarter of last year, has been losing share because of competition from Apple and phones running the Android operating system, as it transitioned to the Windows Phone operating system.
Nokia's smartphone fortunes could improve in quarters to come after its introduction of the Nokia Lumia devices, powered by Windows Phone 7, to markets where its brand is still relatively strong and in areas where the company has lost share over the past two years, IDC said.
Apple and Samsung are caught up in patent litigation relating to their smartphones and tablets in a number of countries.
The worldwide mobile phone market grew 12.8 percent year-over-year to 394 million units in the third quarter of 2011, as smartphone growth declined in key mature markets, IDC said. Strategic Analytics estimated a growth of 14 percent to 390 million units, mainly on lower estimates of shipments by smaller vendors.