Samsung lost the top spot in the global smartphone market for the first time since 2010.

Sarah Tew/CNET

For the first time since 2010, Samsung wasn’t the most-shipped smartphone around the globe: In 2023, Apple and its popular iPhone topped the list for the first time, shipping an estimated 234.6 million units, according to a report from International Data Corp. on Tuesday. 

It’s a milestone for Apple, which saw an all-time-high market share of 20.1% for the iPhone. And it’s poorly timed news for Samsung, which is expected to debut its rumored Galaxy S24 phone series on Wednesday at its Samsung Galaxy Unpacked event.

Want to put it in perspective? The last time Samsung wasn’t in the top phone spot, that honor went to Nokia. Back then, Apple didn’t even crack the top five, Engadget reports.

Since then, Apple and Samsung have been duking it out for the top spot, with Apple ranking first in a few quarterly phone shipment reports, but Samsung retaining the annual shipments crown until now. Apple launched the iPhone 15 lineup in September last year.

Things could be looking up for the smartphone market, according to technology research agency IDC — despite global smartphone shipments declining 3.2% year over year, falling to 1.17 billion units in 2023, the lowest full-year volume in a decade. Growth in the second half of the year has cemented an expected 2024 recovery, with the fourth quarter seeing a higher-than-expected 8.5% growth, above the forecast 7.3% growth.

“While we saw some strong growth from low-end Android players like Transsion and Xiaomi in the second half of 2023, stemming from rapid growth in emerging markets, the biggest winner is clearly Apple,” Nabila Popal, research director with IDC’s Worldwide Tracker team, said in a statement. 

Popal noted that Apple’s success comes despite facing increased regulatory challenges and renewed competition from Huawei in China, its largest market. She credited the company’s success in large part to consumer desire for premium devices, which now represent over 20% of the market.

And things are likely going to stay competitive.

“The overall shift in ranking at the top of the market further highlights the intensity of competition within the smartphone market,” Ryan Reith, group vice president with IDC’s Worldwide Mobility and Consumer Device Trackers, said in a statement.

He noted that the overall Android space is diversifying, with China-based Huawei seeming poised for a resurgence despite US sanctions, and other brands, including OnePlus, Honor and Google, launching competitive devices.

“Overall, the smartphone space is headed towards a very interesting time,” Reith said in the IDC report.

Samsung Galaxy phones and AI

Still, Samsung’s Galaxy Unpacked event on Wednesday should put the company’s name back in headlines. It’s expected that the Galaxy S24 series will stand out from its predecessors, including likely new software features like more generative AI-powered features.

It’s no surprise that AI, which last week dominated CES 2024 in Las Vegas, is expected to be a big part of the new phone series. Samsung’s new phones are expected to be the first to include Galaxy AI, which the company is calling a “comprehensive mobile AI experience.” 

In November, the company debuted a new generative AI model called Gauss, which is Samsung’s answer to ChatGPT and similar AI tools. It’s named after renowned German mathematician Carl Friedrich Gauss, who was known for his influential work in number theory and geometry.

Gauss is made up of three parts: Gauss Language, Gauss Code and Gauss Image. The language portion can handle tasks like writing emails, summarizing documents and translation. Gauss Code was created for assisting with software development, while Gauss Image can generate and modify images.

We’ve previously reported that rumors and leaks suggest that a new titanium build and a design with flatter edges could be in store for the top-of-the line Ultra model, but we’ll have to see what else Samsung has in store.

Galaxy Unpacked will take place in San Jose, California, at 10 a.m. PT (1 p.m. ET, 6 p.m. GMT) and will stream on Samsung’s YouTube channel. CNET staff will be watching the event live and breaking down the news as it’s announced.

Editors’ note: CNET is using an AI engine to help create some stories. For more, see this post.

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