Apple smartphone shipments chasing Samsung but Chinese rising stars are coming up fast: Reports

Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge smartphone
Daniel Leal Olivas | AFP | Getty Images
Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge smartphone

Data from research firms International Data Corporation (IDC) and Strategy Analytics reveal that Apple is closing the gap on its rival Samsung.

According to IDC's research, released Wednesday, the difference in market share between the two firms narrowed by 2.4 percentage points when comparing third quarter data in 2015 and 2016. Strategy Analytics, which released its report today, placed this figure at 2.1 percentage points.

However, Samsung continues to dominate the smartphone market, despite its trouble with the exploding Galaxy Note 7. Both analysis firms calculated the South Korean electronics maker's market share at roughly 20 percent in the third quarter of this year, beating Apple's which was valued at just over 12 percent on average.

Despite this news, Samsung's third-quarter earnings, released Thursday, reported that the company's operating profit tumbled more than 30 percent. This was blamed on its Note 7 scandal.

"The longer-term impact on the Samsung brand remains to be seen. If the first recall was a stumble for Samsung, the second recall of replacement devices face-planted the Note series," Melissa Chau, associate research director of mobile devices at IDC, said in a press release.

Premium smartphone maker Apple's data was equally mixed. Strategy Analytics' third quarter research showed that iPhone shipments were down to 45.5 million from 48 million year on year. Neil Mawston, executive director at Strategy Analytics, said in a press released that "Apple has been given a slight boost by Samsung's Note 7 missteps, but it continues to face iPhone fatigue among many consumers in major regions such as China and Europe."

Apple's third quarter earnings were released Tuesday, mostly beating analysts' estimates due to a positive response to the iPhone 7, but also marking the third straight quarter in which Apple posted a year-over-year revenue decline.

Strategy Analytics recorded positive figures for the smartphone shipments overall, saying that total figure globally grew 6 percent year on year to 375 million units in the third quarter of 2016. Linda Sui, director at Strategy Analytics, said that her firm's data demonstrated "the smartphone industry's fastest growth rate for a year."

IDC's data was still positive but less glowing, calculating shipments to be up 1 percent.

Chinese competitor growth skyrockets

Chinese firms OPPO and Vivo witnessed triple-digit growth in the third quarter of this year, drawing in customers with their high spec, low cost smartphones.

According to IDC's data, OPPO's market share grew to 7 percent in the third quarter of 2016, a whopping 121.6 percent up on last year's equivalent figure. Vivo's data told a similar story, with IDC revealing a rise from a 2.9 percent market share in the third quarter of 2015 to 5.8 percent in 2016, more than doubling.

Sui of Strategy Analytics echoed IDC's findings, commenting that her firm's data showed that "Vivo surged to fifth place (in the market) for the first time ever … taking share from rivals such as Samsung, Apple and Huawei."

Cyrus Mewawalla, founder and CEO of CM Research, spoke to CNBC's Street Signs Wednesday about Apple's earnings in the Chinese market. He said that the Silicon Valley-based giant was facing "local competition" in China, whilst the country's "national propaganda encourages patriotism" in consumers' smartphone choices.

Models such as the OPPO R9 and the Vivo X7 from the smaller, disruptive firms are enjoying a booming popularity in China. Though the companies' presence outside of their home markets is relatively small, enthusiasm is spreading to India and Western Europe.

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