As more people around the world become smartphone users, a growing number of them are also willing to pay more for better devices, according to new data released today by the analyst firm Gartner Inc.

Gartner's sales report for the first quarter of 2017 also shows that while Samsung and Apple remain the world's first- and second-largest smartphone brands, respectively, three Chinese phone makers are gaining ground. Gartner attributes that in part to the access that Huawei, Oppo, and Vivo have to expanding smartphone markets in regions close to China.

Combined, Huawei (pictured above}, Oppo, and Vivo now hold 24 percent of the global smartphone market, an increase of 7 percentage points over the same period last year, Gartner said. Samsung's share now stands at 20.7 percent, down from 23.3 percent in the first quarter of 2016, while Apple holds 13.7 percent of the market, compared to 14.8 percent in Q1 of last year.

'Fierce' Competition in China

"The top three Chinese smartphone manufacturers are driving sales with their competitively priced, high quality smartphones equipped with innovative features," Gartner research director Anshul Gupta said in a statement. "Furthermore, aggressive marketing and sales promotion have further helped these brands to take share from other brands in markets such as India, Indonesia and Thailand."

While there were healthy pre-order figures for Samsung's newest Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus flagship phones, which hit the market last month, its overall sales have taken a hit due to "fierce competition in the basic smartphone segment" and a lack of alternative offerings such as the Galaxy Note 7, Gupta said. Released last summer, the Note 7 was recalled shortly afterward because of its fire-prone battery design.

Apple's sales, too, are under attack in China due to the rise of domestic competitors, Gupta said. It remains to be seen whether Apple can put the brakes on its slipping sales in China with the much-anticipated release of a new iPhone this fall. This year marks the 10th anniversary of the first iPhone, but Apple is reportedly encountering supply issues that could delay the launch of the new iPhone past the usual September release date.

Android Gains on iOS, Smartphone Market Expands

Gartner's new report also shows that the Android mobile operating system is becoming increasingly dominant globally. It now drives 86.1 percent of all smartphones on the market, up from 84.1 percent in the same quarter in 2016. Apple's iOS market share, on the other hand, has declined from 14.8 percent in Q1 of last year to 13.7 percent in the first quarter of this year.

Market data released by Kantar Worldpanel ComTech earlier this month reported similar findings. "The first quarter of 2017 produced the lowest iOS share in China since the second quarter of 2014 with 12.4 percent of smartphone sales," consumer insight director Lauren Guenveur said in a May 10 report. "At the same time, iPhone 7 remained the best-selling device in urban China with 3.8 percent of a market that has become increasingly fragmented."

According to Gartner's latest report, Android will likely see further growth thanks to Google's announcement last week of Android Go. With its mobile operating system now active on 2 billion devices around the world, Google said it intends to target the next billion users with Android Go, which is a stripped-down version of its OS designed for low-end devices with limited memory and data connectivity.

Together, Android and iOS now power almost all of the world's mobile devices, with other operating systems, such as Windows Phone and BlackBerry, now making up just 0.2 percent of the market, down from 1.1 percent in the first quarter of last year.

Overall, the global smartphone market is expected to continue growing significantly over the next several years. Data released last month from the analyst firm CCS Insight predicted that 10 billion mobile devices, most of them smartphones, will ship between now and 2021.