Did the Samsung Galaxy S3 really outsell Apple's iPhone 4S in Q3 2012?

Did the Samsung Galaxy S3 really outsell Apple's iPhone 4S in Q3 2012? A bunch of technology blogs linked to a press release that claimed it did, so it must be true, right? The press release was put out by the impressively named Strategy Analytics and headlined Samsung Galaxy S3 Becomes World's Best-Selling Smartphone Model in Q3 2012, so they can no doubt back up that claim, right? Well, wait, what did the lede say?

According to the latest research from Strategy Analytics, Samsung's Galaxy S3 overtook Apple's iPhone 4S to become the world's best-selling smartphone model for the first time ever in the third quarter of 2012. A large touchscreen, extensive distribution and generous operator subsidies have propelled the Galaxy S3 to the top spot.

And what was senior analyst from Strategy Analytics, Neil Shah, quoted as saying?

Samsung's Galaxy S3 smartphone model shipped 18.0 million units worldwide during the third quarter of 2012. The Galaxy S3 captured an impressive 11 percent share of all smartphones shipped globally and it has become the world's best-selling smartphone model for the first time ever. A large touchscreen design, extensive distribution across dozens of countries, and generous operator subsidies have been among the main causes of the Galaxy S3's success. Apple shipped an estimated 16.2 million iPhone 4S units worldwide for second place, as consumers temporarily held off purchases in anticipation of a widely expected iPhone 5 upgrade at the end of the quarter.

Hang on, the quote doesn't match the headline and lede there, does it? Why use "selling" in the headline and lede, and "shipping" in the quote? Which is it? Why use "selling" at all if they're talking about "shipping", or vice versa? What does "selling" mean? What does "shipping" mean? Are they counting only devices actually sold to customers or devices stuffed into channels, sitting on shelves, or dumped into return bins?

How did they get numbers for the Galaxy S3 when Samsung doesn't disclose device-specific sales numbers in their quarterly financials? Did they take Samsung's recent press release, which claimed 30-million sold from May to October, divide by 5 and multiply by 3 to get 18? Did they assume no change in sales acceleration occurred at all during that period?

How did they get numbers for the iPhone 4S when Apple, who does disclose iPhone sales numbers, doesn't break them down by model? Did they take Apple's 26.9 million July to September iPhone sales number, shift it a month forward, and... um... ah...?

Does it matter that the Galaxy S3 is actually two nearly identical looking, but internally different phones that use completely different processor architectures -- the Samsung Exynos 4 Quad sold internationally, and the Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 sold in North America and Japan -- and are simply sold under the same brand name?

The iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S are also nearly identical looking phones that have different processor architectures, should they be considered together for this report? Is an "S" more of a differentiator than an "International" or "North American"?

Why even put out a press release on a metrics report that so conflates and confounds the very metrics it purports to deliver that the headline and lede can't even be supported by the contents? Why re-blog that press release without questioning why the headline and lede don't match the content of the release?

And if the Galaxy S3 really did outsell the iPhone 4S in Q3, 2012, why not give Samsung, Apple, investors, and consumers something that answers more questions than it raises?

Rene Ritchie

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.