Worldwide smartphone shipments neared 1.5 billion in 2016 after uptick in Q4, new figures show.

Apple’s iPhone was the biggest selling smartphone in the fourth quarter of last year, a period in which global smartphone sales grew by 9% to 438.7 million units, according to new research published this week.

The U.S. company captured a Q4 market share of 17.8% on the back of its 78.3 million iPhone shipments, up from 74.8 million in the same period a year earlier, putting it just ahead of previous market leader Samsung, data from Strategy Analytics shows. The Korean firm shipped 77.5 million smartphones, or 17.7% of the market, down from 81.3 million.

For 2016 as a whole though Samsung remains ahead, accounting for 309.4 million of the 1.49 billion smartphones shipped, compared with Apple’s 215.4 million. Overall smartphone shipments rose by 3% on 2015.

"[Q4] was the iPhone’s best performance for over a year, as Apple capitalized on Samsung’s recent missteps," said Neil Mawston, executive director at Strategy Analytics.

Mawston explained that Samsung lost momentum in the quarter as a result of the battery faults that caused its Galaxy Note 7 devices to catch fire. The company discontinued production of the smartphone in October, a move that it admitted would wipe around €2.4 billion from its operating profit over the next two quarters.

"Samsung will be banking on the rumoured Galaxy S8 model in a few weeks’ time to reignite growth and return to the top spot in quarterly smartphone shipments," Mawston said.

Q4 was more positive for China’s Huawei, which achieved double-digit-percentage market share for the first time, accounting for 10.2% of global shipments.

"Huawei is struggling at home in China against rivals like OPPO, but its overseas performance in markets like Western Europe is accelerating due to improved smartphone designs, more sophisticated marketing, and deeper retail distribution," noted Strategy Analytics director Woody Oh.

Fourth-placed OPPO was the market’s star performer, Strategy Analytics said. It almost doubled its smartphone shipments in Q4 to 29.5 million and a 6.7% market share. For the full year it claimed 5.7% of the market.

"OPPO’s next challenge in 2017 is to expand beyond China and continue its momentum in emerging regions like India and Nigeria," said Linda Sui, director at Strategy Analytics.

"Vivo maintained fifth place with a record 6% market share in Q4 2016," she added. "Like OPPO, Vivo is very popular in China and it continues to strengthen its portfolio with upgraded smartphone models like the X9 and upcoming V5 Plus."