Some 107.5 smartphones were shipped to the Chinese market in fourth-quarter 2014, pushing the year's total figure to 420.7 million. Local manufacturer Xiaomi edges out Samsung to lead the market with a 12.5 percent share.
Smartphone shipment for the quarter climbed 2 percent over the previous quarter and at a higher 19 percent over the previous year, according to IDC's Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker released Tuesday.
Xiaomi closed the year with a 186.5 percent year-on-year growth in shipment and edged out previous market leader Samsung, which saw a 22.4 percent dip in shipment and slid to second position with 12.1 percent market share. Xiaomi had just 5.3 percent market share in 2013, compared to Samsung's 18.7 percent.
While Apple did not feature at all in China's top five vendor list, the iPhone maker saw the second-highest growth at 99.7 percent in the fourth quarter of 2014 compared to the previous year. It accounted for 12.3 percent of smartphone shipment in the quarter, up from 5 percent in the previous quarter. iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus were launched in the Chinese market in the fourth quarter of 2014.
Lenovo, Huawei, and Coolpad rounded up the top five list with 11.2 percent, 9.8 percent, and 9.4 percent market share, respectively.
IDC attributed Xiaomi's strong growth to its focus on low-cost phones "with decent specifications" and its ability to drum up market hype with its flash sales. The research firm added that Huawei offered a wide range of models spanning low-end to mid-range segments, while Lenovo focused on providing sub-US$150 phones.
Samsung dropped market position amid stiff competition not only from Xiaomi, but from other Chinese manufacturers in the low- to mid-end market segments, IDC said.
"Although the 3G phone shipments in China were affected by the reduction in operators' subsidy, the market was able to grow in fourth-quarter 2014 due to its growth in 4G phones," said Tay Xiaohan, IDC's Asia-Pacific senior market analyst for client devices.
She added that the share of phones sold through operators dropped, but the number of phones sold through e-tailers increased from single to double-digit year-on-year growth rate, pointing to the popularity of market players such as JD.com and Tmall.com.
Tay also noted that the larger screensize of Apple's iPhone 6 Plus helped push shipment growth in the market.
IDC is forecasting China's smartphone market to climb 10 percent year-on-year in 2015, with further area for growth.
Tay noted: "With the reduction in operator subsidy, operator-centric vendors in the past such as ZTE, Huawei, and Coolpad have increased their shipments online through direct sales as well as through e-tailers. They have also established online brands for this purpose.
"If they can find an effective balance between their online and offline strategy and find a unique positioning for their online brands, this can be a possible channel that they can use to increase their shipment numbers in 2015," the analyst explained.