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Reports say Samsung has surpassed Apple in selling most smartphones

by Phil Hornshaw

The imminent announcement of the iPhone 4S, the aged-ness of the iPhone 4 and rampant speculation about the future of Apple’s iPhone line led the tech giant to sell about 3 million fewer phones in its fourth quarter of fiscal 2011 than the same period in 2010.

Meanwhile, Samsung has reportedly moved somewhere between 18 million and 21 million smartphones in the same period, and for the first time has surpassed Apple in smartphone sales, according to a story from Pocket Gamer.

Samsung is Apple’s chief competitor with its Android and Windows Phone 7 devices, and this is the first time that the Korean electronics company has beaten out Apple in smartphone sales. It would also secure Samsung as the top-selling smartphone maker on the planet, after beating out Nokia’s 16.8 million phones sold last quarter.

That’s great news for Samsung, given that Apple has been putting serious dents into the company’s ability to sell stuff using lawsuits. Samsung has been banned from selling three of its smartphones in The Netherlands because of a patent dispute with Apple in which the iPad maker claims Samsung copied the design and feel of its devices, among other things. Apple is also sticking it to Samsung in the tablet business all over the world, receiving injunctions in Germany and Australia.

Samsung is fighting back with patent suits of its own, but is yet to be as successful as Apple. However, despite the legal troubles, Samsung has said it would hit the tablet sales it intended to this year, and clearly it’s doing all right for itself in the realm of smartphones. It appears that the company is also working to avoid further legal run-ins with Apple, which can only help boost its sales.

Earlier this week, Samsung and Google announced the Galaxy Nexus, Google’s next branded smartphone and the first device to use the latest version of its operating system, Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. It’s a pretty stellar smartphone on its own, with lots of great new or improved features, and Samsung and Google have gone out of their way to protect it from getting hung up in court.

Pocket Gamer reports that Samsung has said it is taking patents very seriously and is working hard to avoid anything that might be seen as infringement on Apple’s part. That’s not a guarantee that it’ll be lawsuit-free, Samsung admits, but the company is working very hard to make that hope a reality. There’s little to be gained from the lawsuits, Samsung’s president of mobile, Shin Jong-kyun, said, and ongoing suits hurt pride in the brand.

With a little bit of legal insulation, Samsung could really come out swinging in the future. The Galaxy Nexus looks like a powerhouse of a smartphone that could give the record-breaking iPhone 4S a run for its money. This is just one quarter that has Samsung coming out ahead, and against an old and about-to-be-replaced iPhone. But with more great devices in the pipeline, it’s possible Samsung could be developing a trend, or at least keep the race close.