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NEW YORK (Reuters) - China overtook the United States as the world's biggest smartphone market by volume in the third quarter driven by discounts and popular devices like Apple Inc's iPhone, according to Strategy Analytics.
Smartphone shipments grew 58 percent to reach a record 23.9 million units in China during the quarter, while U.S. shipments fell 7 percent from the second quarter to reach 23.3 million devices, according to the research firm.
Strong growth in China was due to aggressive" operator subsidies -- where operators discount phones to lure consumers into long-term contracts -- as well as iPhone and cheaper phones from Chinese vendors such as ZTE Corp who use Google Inc's Android software.
However, its lead may not last for long the researcher said. U.S. smartphone demand was slow in the quarter as many consumers were waiting for the next version of iPhone to launch. As a result China may have a narrower lead or even lose the number one position to the U.S. again in the current quarter, according to Strategy Analytics analyst Linda Sui.
"Whether China can maintain the No. 1 spot depends on the U.S. market," Sui said. "It really depends on iPhone demand in the U.S."
Nokia Oyj lead the China smartphone market in the third quarter with 28 percent market share, while HTC Corp head the pack in the U.S. market with a 24 percent share ahead of Apple's 20.6 percent share, according to the research.
Reporting by Sinead Carew; editing by Bernard Orr