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Apple edges out Samsung for mobile phone sales lead in fourth quarter

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Apple Inc became the top mobile phone seller for the first time in the lucrative U.S. market during the fourth quarter of 2012, outshining arch rival Samsung Electronics Co Ltd, a report by Strategy Analytics showed.

Apple's share of the U.S. mobile phone market, including feature phones and smartphones, jumped to 34 percent from 26 percent, while Samsung's share grew to 32.3 percent from 31.8 percent, the research firm said.

Samsung had been the top mobile phone vendor in the US since 2008, the firm said. Indeed, for the full year, Samsung still held the crown for mobile phone sales; it had a 31.8 percent share of the U.S. market in 2012, against Apple's 26.2 percent.

Apple investors have recently been anxious about the future growth prospects for the company amid intense competition from Samsung's cheaper phones, powered by Google's Android software, and signs the premium smartphone market may be close to saturation in developed markets.

Overall, mobile phone shipments rose 4 percent to 52 million units in the U.S. during the fourth quarter of 2012, driven by strong demand for 4G smartphones and 3G feature phones.

But in all of 2012, U.S. mobile phone shipments fell 11 percent to 166.9 million, Strategy Analytics said.

Apple sold 17.7 million iPhones in the U.S. in the fourth quarter, up 38 percent from the previous year, driven by aggressive marketing of its new iPhone 5 and steep carrier subsidies, the firm said. Samsung shipped 16.8 million phones during the same period.

In the international arena, Samsung Electronics, with a range of handsets, has overtaken Apple as the world's top smartphone seller.

(Reporting by Poornima Gupta; Editing by Bernadette Baum)

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