Chinese smartphone makers Huawei, Lenovo and Xiaomi grew more than the world's two biggest smartphone brands as shipments increased by 10 per cent across the board.
The rise of device makers in China signals increasing competition for Samsung and Apple, which earlier this week reported a slowdown in sales.
"Usually the conversation in the smartphone market revolves around Samsung and Apple, but Huawei's strong showing for both the quarter and the year speak to how much it has grown as an international brand," said Melissa Chau, senior research manager from research firm IDC which tracks the figures.
"While there is a lot of uncertainty around the economic slowdown in China, Huawei is one of the few brands from China that has successfully diversified worldwide, with almost half of its shipments going outside of China. Huawei is poised to be in a good position to hold onto a strong number three over the next year."
Apple's year-on-year growth was less than one per cent, but it managed to grow market share to 16.2 per cent, up from 14.8 per cent last year. It was second only to Samsung when it comes to market share, which grew to 21.4 per cent from 19.9 per cent in 2014. Year-on-year shipments were up 14 per cent.
Apple grew 18 per cent in China, however, and half of those were new iPhone customers.
"With initial Apple shipment estimates all over the map, Apple assured the public that demand for its premium smartphones is still alive and kicking," said Anthony Scarsella, research manager at IDC. He continued:
"To combat Apple at the high-end, competing vendors will need to bring value to consumers to stay relevant in the market. With heavy saturation in many mature smartphone markets such as the US, Europe, and China, many vendors have placed a renewed focus on pushing premium-looking mid-tier devices as a new value proposition to consumers in both developed and emerging markets. Samsung has found success in this segment with its A-Series, and Huawei with its Honor brand. We expect similar devices to appear in 2016 from a variety of vendors that will focus on affordable value without neglecting performance and aesthetics."