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The 4 Most Popular Smartphones of 2016 Were All iPhones

By Evan Niu, CFA - Mar 22, 2017 at 4:14PM

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Can Apple's momentum continue into 2017?

Apple (AAPL 2.45%) enjoyed a few headline wins last year, notably including overtaking arch-frenemy Samsung as the top smartphone vendor in the world in the fourth quarter, according to Strategy Analytics. Considering the fact that much of Samsung's unit volumes have always included low-end phones while Apple only participates in the premium segment, that was quite an accomplishment. (Thank you, Galaxy Note 7 recall and political corruption scandal.)

Adding to its accolades, IHS Markit has just released estimates for 2016, showing that the four most popular smartphones of the year were all iPhones.

iPhone 7 with AirPods

Image source: Apple.

We're No. 1! We're No. 1!...and 2, 3, and 4.

For the full year, the iPhone 6s came out on top, which makes sense since the device was available throughout 2016. Just as expected was a surge in iPhone 7 and 7 Plus shipments in the fourth quarter; the iPhone 7 was the top seller in the fourth quarter alone. For both generations, the smaller 4.7-inch versions sold better than the larger 5.5-inch Plus models.

Chart showing the top 10 selling smartphones of 2016

Image source: IHS Markit.

Samsung makes up the majority of the other best sellers. Samsung's Galaxy S7 Edge was the South Korean company's most popular flagship, coming in at No. 5, which coincides with Samsung's efforts to direct customers there in the wake of its flaming Galaxy Note 7 debacle (despite a few Galaxy S7 Edge units also catching fire). The regular, non-curved Galaxy S7 came in at No. 9. Samsung's other popular models were part of its Galaxy J series, which address mid-tier price points. Despite the Note 7 recall, the S7 and S7 Edge collectively sold 10 million more units than the prior year's S6 and S6 Edge, according to the estimates.

While Huawei has risen the ranks within the global smartphone market and is currently the No. 3 vendor, the Chinese company is doing so with a wide range of models that address numerous price points and market segments. As such, no single model placed within IHS Markit's top 10, despite Huawei's overall growing importance. Rising star Oppo, also based in China, had its A53 rank at No. 7 with approximately 25 million units shipped throughout the year.

iPhone momentum

Apple enjoyed a record 78.3 million iPhone unit sales in the fourth quarter (all models), which helped improve investor sentiment and mitigate concerns that the company's most important product was peaking. That earnings release helped spark a rally that has since brought shares to all-time highs, and it appears that the momentum could carry on. Expectations are running high ahead of this year's 10th-generation iPhone, which should be unveiled in about six months.

Meanwhile, Samsung is facing considerable uncertainty as its corruption scandal continues to unfold, and heir Jay Lee was arrested last month in connection with bribery charges. Samsung has many other capable executives, but turmoil remains within the highest echelons of the company. Whether or not the scandal puts a dent in unit sales remains to be seen.

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