Report: Apple sold 27.4M iPhone 5 units, 17.4M iPhone 4S units in Q4, surpassing Galaxy S III

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Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPhone 5 was the world's best-selling smartphone in the fourth quarter, according to a new report from research firm Strategy Analytics. The firm said Apple's latest model, along with its older iPhone 4S, outsold Samsung Electronics' flagship Galaxy S III during the fourth quarter.

iphone 4s

Apple sold 17.4 million iPhone 4S models during the fourth quarter, according to Strategy Analytics.

The report estimates that both Apple devices overtook the Galaxy S III, which had been the top-selling smartphone model in the third quarter of 2012. In the fourth quarter, Strategy Analytics estimated that Apple sold 27.4 million iPhone 5 models and 17.4 million iPhone 4S models, for a total of 44.8 million between the two (Apple said it sold 47.8 million iPhones in its most recent quarter). Samsung sold 15.4 million Galaxy S III units during the fourth quarter, the report said.

"A rich touchscreen design, extensive distribution across dozens of countries, and generous operator subsidies have been among the main causes of the iPhone 5's success," noted Strategy Analytics analyst Neil Shah.

In the third quarter, the situation was reversed. Strategy Analytics estimated the Galaxy S III sold 18 million units in the third quarter, compared with 6 million iPhone 5 units and 16.2 million iPhone 4S units. Apple released the iPhone 5 at the end of the third quarter.

Samsung does not disclose how many phones or smartphones it sells each quarter, forcing analyst firms to estimate sales. Neither Apple nor Samsung disclose sales of a particular model, except when they hit a milestone.

The numbers are into particularly surprising though, considering that Apple and Samsung have been battling for the top smartphone spot during the past several quarters. Samsung sells a wider range of smartphone models than Apple does, including phones running Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) Android platform, Microsoft's (NASDAQ:MSFT) Windows Phone and its own bada platform.

Samsung is widely expected to unveil its latest flagship smartphone, the Galax S IV, sometime this spring. Rumors have pegged March 14 as a date when the company might announce the new device.

For more:
- see this release
- see this CNET article
- see this Fortune article

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Article updated with more information on Galaxy S III sales.