Apple also supplanted lg as the number-three mobile phone vendor in the world, Gartner said

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Riding on the tidal wave of record-breaking iPhone sales, Apple leaped over Samsung in the fourth quarter to become the world's largest smartphone vendor, according to recent numbers from Gartner.

Apple sold 35.5 million iPhones in the fourth quarter, a 23.8 percent increase from a year ago, while Samsung sold 34 million, Gartner said. That "strong performance" will continue in the first quarter, but the iPhone maker will not benefit from "delayed purchases" - or users who waited patiently for the debut of the iPhone 4S - so there will probably be a dip between the fourth and first quarters.

Global smartphone sales totaled 149 million units in the last quarter, a 47.3 percent increase from 2010. Gartner said the total for the entire year reached 472 million, with smartphones now comprising nearly a third (31 percent) of all mobile devices.

Apple also supplanted LG as the number-three mobile phone vendor in the world, Gartner said.

As Apple and Samsung made gains in the smartphone market, companies like LG, Sony Ericsson, Motorola, and Research in Motion (RIM) ceded some of their share, due in part to lower-end device makers like ZTE and Huawei. RIM gave up 10.7 percent of its share, dropping to the number seven spot. Gartner said Apple, ZTE, and Huawei were the fastest-growing vendors last quarter, with ZTE nabbing fourth place in the global handset market.

As far as operating systems go, Google's Android is still the top platform worldwide, securing half the market last quarter, up from 30.5 percent in 2010. Apple took almost a quarter (23.8 percent) of the space, up from 15.8 percent in 2010.

But in the U.S., some reports show that iOS has taken a slight lead over Android. Kantar Worldpanel ComTech said last month that Apple took a 44.9 percent share in the fourth quarter, with Android close behind with a 44.8 percent stake.

Though Apple sold an astronomical number of iPhones last quarter, Samsung dominated 2011 as the year's top smartphone maker, reports from Strategy Analytics and iSuppli showed.

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