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Samsung Handily Reclaims Smartphone Crown From Apple

Shipments of Samsung's smartphones roared back to life during the first quarter, putting the company ahead of Apple. However, profits remain elusive for the world's largest maker of phones.
Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge: Night At The Museum
Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge: Night At The Museum
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Samsung is once again the king of smartphones.

The South Korean company saw a surge in handset shipments during the first quarter that catapulted it ahead of foe Apple. Despite the upswing in shipments, Samsung's profit sank year-over-year, worrying investors and placing pressure on the Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge smartphones to outperform their predecessors.

Samsung no longer discloses sales of its smartphones, but Strategy Analytics pegged shipments during the first quarter at 83.2 million. That easily outpaces the 61 million iPhones Apple shipped during the same period -- a record, by the way, for Apple. During the fourth quarter of 2014, both Apple and Samsung shipped about 74.5 million smartphones, essentially tying for first place.

[Read about Apple's latest quarterly results.]

Apple's strong fourth quarter performance was due to brisk sales of the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus.

"Samsung continued to face challenges in Asia and elsewhere, but its global performance has stabilized sufficiently well this quarter to overtake Apple and recapture first position as the world's largest smartphone vendor by volume," Strategy Analytics' Neil Mawston wrote in a statement.

The combined Lenovo-Motorola ranked third in overall shipments during the first quarter (18.8 million), and Huawei ranked fourth (17.3 million). LG placed fifth with shipments of 15.4 million, a drop of just 100,000 devices compared to the fourth quarter of 2014.

Samsung's smartphone shipments may have regained their footing a bit during the first three months of 2015, but they're still down significantly from the 89 million devices Samsung shipped during the first quarter of 2014. More to the point, Samsung said net profits dropped 39% from the year-ago period to $4.3 billion. The company's mobile phone business by itself delivered profits of $2.55 billion, but that number is down 57% from the year-ago period.

For its first-quarter numbers, Samsung can thank a greater number of sales of mid-range handsets, rather than its profit-generating premium devices.

The Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge did not play a role in defining Samsung's first quarter, since they didn't go on sale until April 10. Samsung said the new phones are outpacing shipments of last year's Galaxy S5, at least initially. The S5 had a much larger launch window. It went on sale in more than 100 countries, while the S6 and S6 Edge are still available in only 20 countries. Samsung anticipates the S6 will eventually outsell the S5, S4, and S3.

The company's newest phones break with its traditional plastic designs in favor of high-quality glass and metal. The change has proven polarizing for fans of Samsung handsets, many of whom decry the lack of a removable battery and expandable storage.

LG took a different turn with its 2015 flagship smartphone, the G4. Rather than match the premium materials and designs of the iPhone 6, One M9, and Galaxy S6, LG chose leather to set its smartphone apart from the crowd. The G4 doesn't go on sale until June.

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