Nobody agrees on how many smartphones Samsung shipped

How many smartphones did Samsung ship during the third quarter? Depends on who you ask. Strategy Analytics says it was 28 million. IHS iSuppli says it was “an estimated 27.3 million.” The Wall Street Journal‘s (s nws) sources put it somewhere “over 20 million.” On Tuesday, Juniper Research weighed in with a figure of 24.9 million. And what does Samsung say? That’s the thing: It doesn’t.

Samsung no longer reports an absolute number of smartphones shipped, only how much shipments grew relative to the same quarter a year before. In the most recent case, Samsung pegged its smartphone shipment growth at 40 percent over the last year.

I asked Juniper how they arrived at 24.9 million smartphones shipped for Samsung, and they said it was based on the 40 percent growth number from the company, in addition to the relative growth of smartphones as a share of their overall phone shipments, as well as general industry trends. In other words, it’s an estimate.

This isn’t unheard of; it happens in many industries. But it seems to stand out in smartphones since the category is hotter than a grease fire and the two biggest players (Samsung and Apple (s aapl)) are going toe-to-toe on many fronts right now. Much of the tech press is watching for any perceived advantage one has over the other, hence all these market share-based stories.

This is just part of the story though. As The Loop pointed out last week, it’s hard to use these latest numbers to compare relative success of different companies, because shipped devices vs sold isn’t the same thing. Unfortunately, the same comparisons of shipped and sold is being applied to the fast-growing tablet market too.

Thumbnail image courtesy of Flickr user Colin_K