Samsung probably sold the most smartphones in 2011

Trying to count who sold the most smartphones is a difficult business. That’s mostly due to Samsung’s decision to stop releasing unit sales figures for its smartphone sales. The company has taken to releasing sales growth percentages, and market research firms are basing projections of how many phones Samsung shipped last quarter and all of last year on these percentages.
On Friday, IHS iSuppli is the latest to weigh in. The firm says that while Apple (s aapl) came in first place in the last calendar quarter of 2011 in smartphone sales with 37 million, Samsung actually took the crown of world’s largest smartphone vendor of the year with 95 million shipped. (That’s not “sold,” so this isn’t a great way to compare, as we’ve previously discussed, but it’s what we’ve got.) Apple sold 93 million iPhones during the year.

IHS iSuppli is basing its Samsung numbers on information gathered when the company announced its quarterly earnings earlier Friday. I asked iSuppli analyst Wayne Lam how he arrived at the number, and he said he was basing it off the “approximately 30 percent growth” figure Samsung publicly announced. He interpreted that as “under 30 percent but over 27 percent.”

Lam added, “Since we have been tracking Samsung earnings for a while now, we’ve built up a history of our best estimates for their performance. The 95 million figure represents our best estimate of their performance this year based on this new data point and our historical record keeping.”
Strategy Analytics also agrees that while Apple won the fourth quarter, Samsung reigned for the year as the largest supplier of smartphones. All in all, does it matter who’s ahead? Not really. The main takeaway is the growth of this industry: Between just the two companies last year, they’re accounting for almost 200 million smartphones, a huge bulk of the devices sold every year. It’s safe to say that these two are going to be battling it out for a while.