Apple Inc. (AAPL)’s iPhone 5 Crushes Samsung’s Galaxy S III: Nokia Corporation (ADR) (NOK), Research In Motion Ltd (BBRY)

After South Korean conglomerate Samsung boasted of having the best-selling smartphone in the third quarter with its Galaxy S III, dethroning Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL)‘s iPhone 4S, the company is now ceding that title back to Cupertino.

Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL)Back on top
According to the most recent figures out of Strategy Analytics, Apple’s iPhone was able to reclaim the spot as the best-selling smartphone in the world in the fourth quarter. Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) shipped a whopping 27.4 million units of the newest iPhone 5 during the holiday quarter, according to the estimates, nearly double the 15.4 million Galaxy S III units that Sammy shipped.

Model Q2 2012 Units Q3 2012 Units Q4 2012 Units
iPhone 5 N/A 6 million 27.4 million
iPhone 4S 19.4 million 16.2 million 17.4 million
Galaxy S III 5.4 million 18 million 15.4 million

Source: Strategy Analytics. N/A = not applicable; iPhone 5 was launched in Q3 2012. Best-selling model in each quarter shown in bold.

Perhaps more interesting is that even the previous-generation iPhone 4S outsold the newest Galaxy S III, even after Samsung’s newest flagship fared better in the third quarter.

Model Q2 2012 Market Share Q3 2012 Market Share Q4 2012 Market Share
iPhone 5 N/A 3.5% 12.6%
iPhone 4S 12.7% 9.4% 8%
Galaxy S III 3.5% 10.4% 7.1%

Source: Strategy Analytics. N/A = not applicable; iPhone 5 was launched in Q3 2012. Best-selling model in each quarter shown in bold.

The third quarter was a transition period for Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) as it launched the iPhone 5 and sales of the iPhone 4S stalled in anticipation of the new model. In the fourth quarter, demand for the two newest generations rebounded while the Galaxy S III posted a sequential decline despite all of Samsung’s aggressive marketing.

Low-balling it
Another interesting data point is when you cross reference these figures with Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL)’s earnings figures, that implies that the company only sold 3 million units of the 2-year-old iPhone 4. Once the iPhone 5 was launched, the iPhone 4 was moved down to the on-contract subsidized price point of $0, which is mighty tempting.

That unit figure is lower than I would have expected, as on the last conference call, Tim Cook said that model was supply constrained for the entire quarter due to strong demand. It appears that Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) significantly underestimated what level of demand the iPhone 4 could generate at such a low price point, despite the fact that it was originally released in 2010.