Samsung Electronics (KS: 5930), Asia's biggest technology company, pre-announced record first-quarter earnings Friday that could be an early indicator for its U.S. rivals.

The South Korean electronics giant estimated first-quarter income would be 5.8 trillion won (US $5.1 billion), ahead of estimates, on revenue of 45 trillion won, up nearly 21 percent.

Besides being the world's No. 2 semiconductor maker, behind Intel (Nasdaq: INTC) Samsung also has been battling Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL) for market share in the cutthroat smartphone sector. The preliminary announcement suggests Samsung has taken back its rank as No. 1.

The company said it sold more than 44 million smartphones, triple the year-earlier amount, or 33 percent more than estimates for Apple's quarterly shipments published by analyst Peter Misek of Jefferies and others.

In the fourth quarter of 2011, Apple sold 37 million iPhones.

As one of Apple's principal suppliers of chips and other electronics, the Samsung numbers likely reflect increased sales for Apple as well. The Cupertino, Calif., electronics maker is scheduled to report second-quarter results on April 24.

The Korean supplier reported higher sales of its Galaxy Note phone as well as Galaxy Note, a competitor of the iPad. Samsung's electronics business also includes TVs, hi-fi equipment, PCs, laptops and liquiid-crystal displays as well as consumer appliances.

Samsung, the world's biggest maker of dynamic random-access memory (DRAM) chips, may also benefit for the rest of the year because Japan's Elpida Memory filed for bankruptcy last quarter. As a result, Apple and big PC makers including Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ) and Dell (Nasdaq: DELL) might require an alternate supplier.

Samsung Electronics shares rose 0.15 percent in Friday trading in Seoul. They've jumped more than 45 percent over the past 52 weeks.