If it wasn’t clear that Apple's holiday quarter was a phenomenal one for the iPhone, the latest sales figures tell the story. In the fourth quarter of 2014, the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus led Apple to the top spot for smartphone sales, knocking Samsung off its pedestal for the first time since 2011, according to research firm Gartner.

In that period, Apple sold 74.8 million units, earning a 20.4 percent market share, up from 17.8 percent for the same period in 2o13. Samsung came in second, with 73 million units, plummeting to a 19.9 percent share from 29.5 percent in the same period the previous year.

Gartner 2014 Q4 sales Apple surpassed Samsung in smartphone sales during the fourth quarter of 2014 Photo: Gartner

Though Samsung managed to maintain the top slot in annual smartphone sales, its lead in the global market has continued to slip due to increased pressure from both Apple and up-and-coming Chinese smartphone vendors, three of which took top spots in global sales in Q4 2014.

"Samsung continues to struggle to control its falling smartphone share, which was at its highest in the third quarter of 2013,” Anshul Gupta, principal research analyst at Gartner, said. “This downward trend shows that Samsung's share of profitable premium smartphone users has come under significant pressure."

Gartner 2014 Q4 sales Table 2 Samsung's lead in smartphone sales has been eroded by pressure from Apple as well as Chinese smartphone vendors Photo: Gartner

With the launch of the Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge, Samsung is hoping to reverse that trend.  The company has introduced a number of new features on the smartphone, including an all-metal design. But it has also taken a step back in some areas, such as the elimination of waterproofing, user-expandable storage and removable back plate.

Overall smartphone sales totaled 1.2 billion in 2014, accounting for two-thirds of the global market, up 28.4 percent from 2013.