Lenovo’s diversification into the “PC Plus” device era as pushed by Chairman and CEO Yang Yuanqing continues to pay off.

Just ahead of what Lenovo says is a significant announcement coming late tonight, Lenovo received good news from the smartphone front.

The world’s No. 1 PC maker is committed to selling 40 million smartphones this year, and in the third quarter it sold 12.3 million. That “largest year-over-year” increase in performance ranks Lenovo No. 4 in sales, says research firm IDC. Lenovo nearly doubled its year-ago total of 6.9 million.

The new figure is also 1 million higher than what Lenovo sold in the second quarter.

Its market share increased to 4.7 percent from 3.7 percent a year ago but remained the same as in the second quarter.

Yes, Lenovo remains far behind market leaders Samsung and Apple. But let’s not forget an important fact: Lenovo is NOT YET selling smartphones in the U.S. Those are expected to begin next year.

Wrote the research firm in its latest smartphone sales report:

“Lenovo posted the largest year-over-year increase among the leading vendors, enough to push past LG to claim the number four position worldwide. The company relied on its stronghold in Asia/Pacific, and particularly China, where the overwhelming majority of its smartphones went. Lenovo has also made continued progress in other markets, pushing into Latin America and [Europe Middle East Asia.].”

At 10 PM EST this evening, Lenovo is touting an event featuring Hollywood’s Ashton Kutcher. But the press conference is rumored to focused on tablets, which is another big area of growth for Lenovo and part of that “PC Plus” drive.

For the moment, Lenovo can bask in the publicity of its increase smartphone sales which are touted by Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant. 

Lenovo took advantage of a growing appetite for smartphones as overall shipments soared 38.8 percent from a year ago, IDC noted. That’s a record total of 258.4 million – a jump of 9 percent over the previous record, which came in the second quarter of this year.

Overall mobile phone sales jumped to 467.9 million from 442.7 million a year earlier. 

“The third quarter was up substantially over the previous quarter, which was also a record quarter for shipments, showing the real momentum of the smartphone market,” said Ryan Reith, the program director with IDC’s Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker. “Price points have declined significantly, driven largely by low-cost Android solutions. This has helped China to become one of the fastest growing smartphone markets in the world, accounting for more than one third of all shipments last quarter. We expect this trend to continue going forward.”

Lenovo sells most of its phones in China, where business is really booming.

“Beyond Samsung and Apple at the top of the rankings is a tight race of vendors trying to break out from the pack,” Ramon Llamas, research manager of IDC’s Mobile Phone team, said. “In 3Q13, Chinese vendors Huawei and Lenovo moved past LG, and not far behind are two more Chinese companies, Coolpad and ZTE. Any of these vendors could change position again next quarter. But in addition to having close shipment volumes, they all have one key ingredient in common: Android. This has been a huge factor in their success, but it also speaks to the challenges of differentiation on the world’s most popular platform.”

As for the last quarter of the year, IDC projected continued “strong momentum and another record quarter.”

In September, IDC projected that smartphone shipments will top 1 billion units this year for the first time.

IDC’s analysis on other top manufacturers:

  • “Samsung easily maintained its leadership position, shipping more units than the next four vendors combined. Samsung’s flagship models received the lion’s share of attention during 3Q13, with more carriers adding the Galaxy S4, continued demand for the Galaxy S III, and the introduction of the Galaxy Note 3. Despite the popularity of those models, it was the company’s long line of mass-market smartphones that helped fuel volumes to reach a new record level.
  • “Apple’s total volumes speak to the early success of the iPhones 5S and 5C, and the softening demand of older devices prior to the new models launching. The iPhone 5S lived up to the hype of the gold case and the fingerprint sensor, and the iPhone 5C with an array of colors. At the same time, limited usability on the fingerprint sensor and higher-than-expected pricing on the iPhone 5C drew mixed reactions. Still, this did not prevent Apple from enjoying a record 9 million units shipped in their debut.
  • “Huawei returned to the list of top five vendors after a one-quarter hiatus, narrowly beating out Lenovo and LG. In fact, less than a million units separate Huawei from the next two vendors, underscoring how tightly contested the market has become following Samsung and Apple. Huawei relied on Asia/Pacific for the bulk of its shipment volumes, but the company continued to make headway into Europe and the Americas with volumes exceeding one million units in each region.
  • “LG slipped to fifth place, but nevertheless posted strong double-digit year-over-year smartphone growth (72.2%). Although volumes were flat from the previous quarter (12.0 million units), LG’s product portfolio shows continued maturity at the high-end of the market. Key to its success was the launch of the Optimus G2 and a continued strong reception for the Optimus G and the Optimus G Pro. In contrast was LG’s performance in emerging markets, where 3G competition intensified.”