Apple overtook Samsung Electronics in the fourth quarter last year to become the world's top IT company in terms of sales. Samsung ceded the lead to Apple just one year after beating HP to the top.
Apple is also projected to have regained its position as the world's top smartphone maker in terms of sales in the fourth quarter after selling 37.04 million of the devices. However, Samsung maintained its top position in terms of annual sales in 2011, selling W164 trillion (US$1=W1,127) worth of products compared to Apple's W139 trillion.
The two companies are expected to keep competing fiercely this year to gain dominance over the global IT industry following the death of Apple founder and CEO Steve Jobs last year.
◆ Apple Overtakes Samsung
Apple on Tuesday announced fourth quarter revenues of $46.3 billion (or W52 trillion) and operating profit of $17.3 billion (W19 trillion). That was more than the W47 trillion in revenues and W5.2 trillion in operating profit Samsung Electronics achieved. Apple's operating profit was over three times larger than Samsung's and set an IT industry record.
Smartphones played the main role in powering Apple's earnings. Apple sold 37.04 million smartphones in the quarter, up 128 percent compared to the same period of 2010. iPhone sales accounted for half of Apple's revenues. Apple also sold 15.43 million iPads over the same period, up 111 percent on-year.
Other products also fared well. It sold 15.38 million iPods, up 26 percent, and Mac computer sales rose 26 percent to 5.2 million units.
Samsung achieved record earnings last year but Apple's performance was more noteworthy, because Samsung is a comprehensive electronics and IT company that sells components and finished products, including semiconductors, LCDs, TVs and mobile phones, while Apple sells only finished goods such as mobile phones and computers.
Thanks to its sprawling business structure, Samsung had always beaten Apple in terms of overall sales until now. But Apple's operating profit margin (the ratio of sales to profits) stands at 37 percent, while Samsung's is a mere 11 percent. Apple was superior to Samsung both in terms of quantity and quality.
Analysts say Apple's latest performance results dispelled concerns that were raised due to the absence of Steve Jobs at the helm. The company is expected to unveil a new iPhone and iPad in the first half of this year.
◆ Samsung Ahead in Annual Sales
Accurate data has yet to be released over which company is the world's top smartphone maker. Samsung sold around 37 million in the fourth quarter after its Galaxy S2 and Galaxy Note smartphones became global hits. That is only around 40,000 units shy of Apple's achievement over the same period. Samsung said the difference is so small that the ranking could shift depending on how the data is tabulated.
Samsung sold 98 million smartphones last year to become No. 1, and Apple sold 93 million. Samsung also leads in terms of annual smartphone sales. Samsung Electronics top executive Choi Gee-sung said the firm's sales are increasing more than 10 percent each year.
But some say that Apple's earnings surprise in the fourth quarter could be a temporary phenomenon because it was propelled mainly by customers who swarmed to buy the iPhone 4S, which came out in October, much later than anticipated. Others say that iPhone 4S sales were affected by the fact that it was the last creation of Steve Jobs. Analysts believe that the clear winner will emerge once the dust settles.