Why it matters: Strong iPhone sales during the holidays helped Apple achieve double-digit growth in the fourth quarter and edge out Huawei for the number two position overall in 2020. And in 2021, it'll likely be more affordable 5G phones and innovative features that drive upgrades.

Market research firm Gartner in its latest report said Apple sold 79.9 million iPhones during the final three months of 2020, an increase of 14.9 percent compared to the same period a year ago. For comparison, Samsung managed to sell 62.1 million smartphones to end users during the quarter, down 11.8 percent versus Q4 2019.

According to Gartner, the last time Apple was the top smartphone vendor was in the fourth quarter of 2016.

Looking at the full year, Samsung took home the crown with 253 million smartphones sold followed by Apple with 199.8 million iPhones sold. Huawei, Xiaomi and Oppo brought up the rear with sales of 182.6 million units, 145.8 million units and 111.8 million units, respectively.

Only Apple and Xiaomi realized yearly sales growth; Samsung's sales were down 14.6 percent compared to 2019 while Huawei saw the highest decline among the top five vendors with a dip of 24.1 percent. Unsurprisingly, Huawei was negatively impacted by the continued ban of Google apps on smartphones sold by the company.

Anshul Gupta, senior research director at Gartner, believes that the availability of lower-end 5G smartphones and innovative new features will be the deciding factor for end users looking to upgrade their existing phones in 2021.

Images courtesy Diego Maravilla, pixfly