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Lost in all of the talk of Apple’s declining profits was that the iPhone now accounts for a quarter of all smartphones shipped globally in 2012.

Although Samsung’s triple-digit yearly growth-rate blinded many observers, Apple last year did eek out 47 percent growth.

It was enough to make Apple the only smartphone maker beside the South Korean firm to show any growth at all in 2012. Apple shipped 136.8 million iPhones in 2012, up from 93.1 million units in 2011, according to technology researcher IDC. Wednesday, Apple announced it shipped 47.8 million iPhones during the fourth quarter of last year…

AppleInsider, quoting IDC data:

Controlling a quarter of smartphone shipments, Apple was squarely in second place worldwide, in a two-horse race with market leader Samsung – the only other company among the top five vendors that managed to grow its share.

The IDC data reinforces the belief that two mobile OS war between iOS and Android during 2012 has become a two-brand battle between Apple and Samsung.

While Apple’s market share grew to 25.1 percent of the smartphone market, Samsung claimed the number one spot with 39.6 percent of the 2012 market, a dramatic rise from nineteen percent in 2011.

At the same time, Nokia and RIM – two cell phone vets that never caught a break in smartphones, as well as early Android support HTC – dropped from IDC’s chart of the top-five smartphone vendors based on market share.

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Nokia, which had 15.6 percent of the smartphone market in 2011, closed 2012 with just six percent of the market, a drop of nearly 55 percent, according to IDC.

RIM also ended last year with six percent of the smartphone market, sliding from 10.3 percent in 2011 for a 36 percent drop. Meanwhile, HTC’s market share fell by only 25 percent, ending 2012 at just six percent of the smartphone market.

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By comparison, Huawei saw shipments of its low-cost smartphones built for the China market jump by 89.5 percent, capturing 4.9 percent of the global market in the fourth quarter.

Sony ranked fourth on the IDC list, shipments rising 55.6 percent for 4.5 percent of the market. The fifth-largest smartphone maker, ZTE had 48.4 percent growth to own 4.3 percent of the smartphone market, IDC announced.

IDC’s market share figures for Apple are a bit rosier than research rival Strategy Analytics. While IDC reported Apple’s iPhone rose to 25 percent of the smartphone market in 2012, up from 18.8 percent in 2011, Strategy earlier this week announced far smaller growth.

The research firm said Apple grew to 19.4 percent of the global smartphone market during the fourth quarter, up from 19 percent during the same period in 2011.