iPhone 12 shipments put Apple ahead of Samsung for the first time since 2016

Samsung ended 2020 on top but had a tough time through most of the year.

Chris Velazco / Engadget

Pandemic and all, Apple shipped more phones in the final quarter of 2020 than any other manufacturer. Market research firm Gartner estimates the company shipped approximately 80 million iPhones in the previous quarter. That performance, one of Apple's best to date, helped push it past Samsung for the first time since Q4 2016. Samsung still ended the year with the most phone sales of any manufacturer but saw an annual decline of 14.6 percent following a quarter in which shipments fell by 11.8 percent year-on-year. Compare that to Apple, which saw its shipments increase by 14.9 percent in Q4 2020 and sales grow by 3.3 percent annually.

Gartner suggests the launch of the iPhone 12 helped Apple significantly, but likely just as vital to its success was all the expensive duds Samsung released in 2020. The company didn't do itself any favors with the Galaxy S20 and Note 20, both of which it's safe to say were overpriced when they first came out. With the more affordable Galaxy S21 to offer to consumers, Samsung is in a much better position for 2021.

For all of Samsung's woes in Q4 2020 and the rest of the year, it didn't have as bad a time as Huawei. Sanctions put in place by the Trump administration took their toll on the company. It saw its shipments fall by a steep 41.1 percent during the quarter and sales drop by 24.1 percent for the year.

Returning to Apple for a moment, it's not just that iPhone doing work for the company. Thanks to the pandemic and associated stay-at-home orders, the Mac is also on a roll. According to a recent report from Canalys, Apple's shipment volume grew by 45 percent in 2020 and 16.6 percent year-on-year in Q4 2020.