There’s further evidence that the global smartphone industry is turning into a two-horse race, after Gartner released the results of its 2012 report. The analyst firm found that, during the fourth quarter of 2012, Apple and Samsung accounted for more than 50 percent market share for the first time, while Nokia charted its lowest market share to date.

Sales of smartphones grew 38.3 percent over 2012 — to reach 207.7 million units — but Samsung and Apple, the mobile industry’s big two ‘frenemies‘ dominate, and accounted for a joint 46.4 percent in the final quarter of the year. Much of their growth is based on momentum, according to Gartner, which states that merely the “strength of their brands as much as their actual products” have seen them rise to a joint dominant position.

Anshul Gupta, principal research analyst at Gartner, says that “no manufacturer that can firmly lay claim to the No. 3 spot in global smartphone sales” but Chinese manufacturer Huawei is the one that occupies the position based on Q4 2012. The firm sold 27.2 million smartphones during 2012 as a whole, that’s up 73.8 percent on 2011, and in stark contrast to once-dominant Nokia.

The Finnish firm recorded its lowest ever share of the global mobile market — smartphones and feature phones — weighing in with just 18 percent in the fourth quarter, down from 23.4 percent a year prior. However, Q4 did see its actual shipment numbers increase quarter-on-quarter thanks to “a good response” to its Windows Phone-based Lumia range and budget Asha smartphones.

Overall, though, 2012 was a difficult year for Nokia. Its total of 39.3 million smartphone sales worldwide was down 53.6 percent from 2011, and has yet to cement third place.

Samsung continues to dominate the Android platform and, though it has committed to exploring other operating systems, including Tizen, Gupta believes Android needs to step out from the Korean firm’s shadow.

“With Samsung commanding over 42.5 percent of the Android market globally, and the next vendor at just 6 percent share, the Android brand is being overshadowed by Samsung’s brand with the Galaxy name nearly a synonym for Android phones in consumers’ mind share,” he said.

The research firm also highlights the ‘iPhone mini’ dilemma for Apple, noting that sales in the fourth quarter indicated consumers “favored” the cheaper iPhone and iPhone 4S devices over the flagship iPhone 5. While it also suggests that the launch of the iPad mini has given some consumers an alternative option to an iPhone.

Gartner doesn’t break out smartphone numbers by manufacturer in its charts. The two below show overall handset sales and market share for the fourth quarter of 2012 and the year as a whole.

Gartner Says Worldwide Mobile Phone Sales 520x636 Gartner: 52% of Q4 smartphone sales were Apple or Samsung; Nokia sunk to lowest overall handset shareHeadline image via popculturegeek / Flickr