King for a Quarter: Samsung Snatches Smartphone Sales Crown from Apple

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Just like that, Samsung’s the new smartphone king, overtaking Apple last quarter and snatching the coveted title “world’s largest smartphone” shopkeep. Not only that, but Samsung’s forecasting big numbers for the current quarter, October to December. Hey Samsung, intimidate much?

The numbers are certainly on Samsung’s side: The company’s smartphone shipments surged 44%, July to September, over sales the last quarter totaling 27.8 million units—a fourfold explosion over the same period the prior year. That gives Samsung nearly 24% of the market.

(MORE: Samsung Announces Android Flagship ‘Galaxy Nexus’ Smartphone)

Contrast with Apple’s shipments of 17.1 million phones, or 14.6% of the market, knocking Apple back from first to second place, ahead of Nokia, which held its position as third. Apple just surpassed Nokia in June, in fact, indicating just how leapfrog-like angling for smartphone sales pole position can be.

Analysts predict Apple will sell up to 30 million iPhones the final holiday quarter, but even so, that wouldn’t be enough to unseat Samsung, predicted to sell more still and maintain its lead over Cupertino.

Total smartphone unit sales in the third quarter of 2011 hit a record 117 million units—wherever you place these companies in the rankings, a rising tide of smartphone demand appears to be lifting several boats.

“Samsung’s rise has been driven by a blend of elegant hardware designs, popular Android services, memorable sub-brands and extensive global distribution,” said Strategy Analytics senior analyst Alex Spektor. “Samsung has demonstrated that it is possible, at least in the short term, to differentiate and grow by using the Android ecosystem.”

Apple’s last quarter in the top spot has so far been its only: “Apple’s global smartphone growth rate slowed to just 21 percent annually in Q3 2011, its lowest level for two years,” said Strategy Analytics director Neil Mawston, who attributed the slowdown to “consumers and operators awaiting the launch of the new iPhone 4S in the fourth quarter, volatile economic conditions in several key countries, and tougher competition from Samsung’s popular Galaxy S2 model.”

MORE: Apple-Samsung Patent Battle: Apple’s Totally Winning

Matt Peckham is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @mattpeckham or on Facebook. You can also continue the discussion on TIME‘s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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