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Apple becomes world's third largest mobile phone manufacturer

In just five short years, Apple has become the third largest mobile phone manufacturer in the world. International Data Corporation (IDC), as part of the continuing Worldwide Mobile Phone Tracker survey, noted that the overall mobile phone market is still growing despite a major decline in numbers for low-priced "feature phones."

Despite fierce competition from both Apple and Samsung, Nokia retained its spot as the leader in mobile phone shipments. The company is transitioning from the Symbian OS for smartphones, having recently launched the Lumia line of Windows Phone-powered smartphones. IDC notes that Nokia's worldwide distribution and manufacturing presence will make it difficult for other companies to knock the Finnish company from its perch on the mobile phone throne.

Not surprisingly, Samsung was the number two manufacturer, selling more than 300 million phones in 2011. The company's Android smartphone line and new Windows Phone smartphones, along with a growing line of feature phones, inched Samsung even closer to Nokia's coveted number one spot.

Apple jumped from third position after being in fifth place in the previous quarter. The third-place finish is the highest ever for Apple, and the strong launch of the iPhone 4S was listed as the primary reason that the company leapfrogged over competitors LG and ZTE in the fourth quarter of 2011.

Rounding out the top five were Korean manufacturer LG, which has seen a drop in sales for the last year. Chinese vendor ZTE almost took over the fourth place position, moving from low-cost feature phones to increasingly powerful smartphones. ZTE has recently entered the North American market with Android and Windows Phone-powered smartphones.

The most fascinating number, however, was the year-over-year change in shipments. While arch-rival Samsung saw a 17.6 percent change in sales volume over the previous year, Apple saw a whopping 96.2 percent increase. Apple now has 6 percent of the total mobile phone market based on 2011 unit shipments; recall that Steve Jobs noted during the 2007 introduction of the iPhone that he'd be happy with a 1 percent share.

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