iPhone 6 next to Galaxy Alpha

Samsung's decline of late has allowed Apple – which posted a stellar quarter in which it sold 74.5 million iPhones – to catch up to the South Korean manufacturer. According to data from market research firm Strategy Analytics, both Samsung and Apple control a global market share of 19.6 percent and are now tied for the title of the world's largest smartphone vendor.

Global smartphone sales

The numbers highlight the decline Samsung witnessed in 2014 when seen against previous years. The South Korean vendor sold 11.5 million smartphones less than what it did in Q4 2013. For the latest quarter, Samsung posted a sales decline of 11 percent from the same period in 2013, and a profit decline of 27 percent.

Meanwhile, with a profit of $18 billion and overall revenue of $74.6 billion, Apple had the best-ever quarter by a public company. Apple's fourth quarter sales amounted to 38.6 percent of its yearly sales, highlighting the sheer increase in sales seen last quarter.

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Global smartphone market share

Strong showing in China (where Apple is now the number one vendor) followed by an increase in sales in Samsung's home market as well as Japan allowed Apple to narrow the gap with Samsung.

Lenovo's acquisition of Motorola enabled the Chinese manufacturer to edge out Huawei to take the number three spot with a combined market share of 6.4 percent. Motorola's return to China and Lenovo's efforts to increase its focus in the country means that the Chinese vendor will be looking to challenge the likes of Huawei and Xiaomi aggressively this year. Huawei is also on the rise, with its 24.1 million shipments in Q4 2014 amounting to nearly a third of its yearly sales.

The smartphone market as a whole grew by 31 percent last year. 1.3 billion smartphones were shipped globally over the course of the year, with emerging markets like India and China witnessing a healthy growth.

Source: Strategy Analytics