What was huge was the spike in sales from Q3 2011 to Q4 2011, for Apple. Apple's shipments rose 117 percent on the strength of its new device, while Samsung only saw shipments rise 28 percent during the peak holiday shopping season.
That explosive growth in iPhone sales is what has led Apple to within an eyelash of Android in recent sales, according to Nielsen.
Wayne Lam, a senior analyst of wireless communications at IHS, said in a statement, "Samsung advanced in 2011 because of its strategy of offering a complete line of smartphone products, spanning a variety of price points, features and operating systems. This enabled Samsung to move past perennial market leader Nokia and to slightly exceed Apple's total for the year."
Although though of as an Android OEM, Samsung has its own smartphone platform, Bada, and it also ships devices sporting Microsoft's Windows Phone platform. Rival market research firm Strategy Analytics had the same ranking of the two companies for Q4 2011, but listed Samsung's smartphone shipments at slightly more, 36.5 million units.
For now, it appears to be a two-horse race among smartphone makers, although it is true --- Android's strength has been its variety of handsets, and HTC and Motorola still produce a number of compelling designs, along with smaller firms LG, ZTE, and even more.