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The iPhone grabs/loses market share

Apple's iconic smartphone is going gangbusters! No, it's suffering from "Razr burn"!

Shortly before noon on Monday, James Rogers, writing for TheStreet.com, reported that "Apple (aapl) is grabbing market share from its smartphone rivals." His source: a Strategy Analytics report that showed Apple's market share growing to 16.4% in the fourth quarter of 2009, up from 10.8% a year earlier -- a 52% increase.

A couple hours later, Niraj Sheth, writing for WSJ Blogs, looked at similar data and came to the opposite conclusion. "In the last quarter," he wrote, "Apple Inc.’s iPhone did something it’s rarely done before: lose market share." Sheth's source: data compiled by ABI Research that showed the iPhone accounting 16.6% of smartphone sales in the fourth quarter of 2009, down from 18.1% in the third -- an 8.3% dip.

An ABI researcher suggested to the Journal that Apple might be running into a case of  "Razr burn" -- the condition that clobbered Motorola's (mot) mobile sales when their hottest cell phone started to show its age.

The irony is that the numbers each writer cites for the iPhone's Q4 market share -- 16.4% and 16.6% -- are nearly identical. But one is celebrating growth year over year and the other is writing about sequential quarterly dip.

They could have done both comparisons -- yearly and quarterly -- but then they would have ended up with a headline like the one at the top of this post.

[Follow Philip Elmer-DeWitt on Twitter @philiped]

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