According to the International Data Corporation (IDC), the iPhone stole Samsung’s crown in 2023 with 234.6 million units sold, compared to the South Korean firm’s 226.6 million units.
The US tech giant commanded a 20.1 per cent market share ahead of Samsung’s 19.4 per cent, the IDC said.
Analysts from the closely watched market tracker said Apple’s rise was due to the success of premium devices such as the iPhone.
They also pointed to an increasingly fragmented market for smartphones that run on Google’s Android operating system, citing low-end Samsung rivals such as Transsion, Xiaomi and Honor.
The success of Huawei’s well-received offerings in China also had an effect on Samsung’s drop in sales, the IDC said.
Global smartphone shipments declined 3.2 per cent to 1.17 billion units in 2023, according to the IDC — though the group said the industry was recovering after a sluggish period.
“Growth in the second half of the year has cemented the expected recovery for 2024,” it said in a statement.
Smartphone giants vie to make AI more mainstream
The new sales data came ahead of Samsung’s announcement of its latest devices at an event in San Jose, California on Wednesday.
Unveiling the next generation of its flagship Galaxy models, Samsung’s sales pitch revolved around an array of new features powered by artificial intelligence (AI).
The company said all of its new Galaxy phones would have more AI than before, including a feature that would provide live translation during phone calls in 13 languages and 17 dialects.
The new phones will also enable ways to quickly manipulate the appearance and placement of specific parts of pictures taken by their cameras. It’s a feature that could help people refine their photos, while also making it easier to create misleading images.
Google pushed to infuse its latest Pixel phones with more AI in 2023, including the ability to alter the appearance of photos — an effort the company accelerated with the initial rollout of project Gemini, its next technological leap.
Apple is expected to put more AI into its next generation of iPhones in September, but now Samsung has a head start toward gaining the upper hand in making the technology more ubiquitous, Forrester Research analyst Thomas Husson said.
“Samsung’s marketing challenge is precisely to make the technology transparent to impress consumers with magic and invisible experiences,” he said.
The increasing use of AI in smartphones comes after Microsoft-backed company OpenAI thrust the technology into the mainstream last year with its ChatGPT bot which can quickly create stories, memos, videos and drawings upon request.
Todd Lohr, a US technology consultant for KPMG, predicted AI would likely have broad implications on productivity, creativity and privacy as it became a more integral piece of smartphones.
“Intelligence is actually coming to your smartphone, which really haven’t been that smart,” Mr Lohr said.
“You may eventually see cases where you could have your smartphone listen to you all day and have it provide a summary of your day at the end of it. That could create a challenge in the social construct because if everyone’s device is listening to everyone, whose data is it?”
AI isn’t quite that advanced yet, but Samsung already is trying to address privacy worries likely to be raised by the amount of new technology rolling out in its Galaxy S24 models. Samsung executives are emphasising that the AI features can be kept on the device, although some applications may need to connect to data centres via the internet.
The company also is promising users that their on-device activity will be protected.
Michael Kokotajlo, KPMG’s digital transformation partner of telecommunications, thinks Samsung and other smartphone makers are on the way to giving people an “AI assistant in their pockets” — a concept that he expects to be more readily adopted by younger generations that have grown up during the mobile-computing era.
“Millennials and Gen Z are definitely going to be looking for these AI capabilities because they don’t have as much concern about privacy and security, but some of the older generations may have more concerns about that, or how you even leverage all of it.