It used to be a foregone conclusion that smartphone makers would see substantial year-over-year sales increases. After all, everyone wanted smartphones. Today, everyone still wants smartphones, but they already have at least one. The market has plateaued, and companies like Samsung and Apple are seeing phone sales level off and even trend downward. One notable exception is Huawei, which is still growing and has again passed Apple to be the second largest smartphone vendor in the world, according to IDC.
For most of the last decade, smartphone sales have ticked upward at double-digit rates every year. The increase began leveling off in the last several quarters — even Apple recently warned that it expected iPhone sales to drop. The latest IDC report for the first quarter of 2019 says that worldwide phone shipments dropped 6.6 percent versus last year; 310.8 million smartphones down from 332.7 million in Q1 2018.
Apple and the Chinese tech giant Huawei have battled over the number two slot behind Samsung for several quarters with Apple emerging the winner late last year. Now, Huawei has again recaptured second place with a staggering 50.3 percent unit increase. Confirming Apple’s prediction, IDC says that its sales dropped 30.2 percent year-over-year in 2019. Samsung saw a smaller 8.1 percent drop in sales.
Samsung still moved substantially more units in Q1 than Huawei at around 71.9 million versus 59.1 million. The Chinese firm sits at an estimated market share of 19 percent (a 7.2 point increase) while Samsung is at 23.1 percent. This is the closest Huawei has come to overtaking Samsung. Apple, meanwhile, is down at 11.7 percent, a drop of four percent from last year.
China is one of the key growth markets for smartphone sales, and local companies have an advantage. Still, Huawei is overshadowing most of its homegrown competition. Xiaomi, Vivo, and Oppo are also on the list behind Apple, but both Oppo and Xiaomi saw small sales decreases in Q1. Vivo enjoyed a healthy 24 percent sales increase to 23.2 million units, tying it for fifth place with Oppo.
It’s important to note that Huawei has achieved this level of growth with almost zero presence in the US. Its anticipated 2018 partnerships with US carriers were canceled after congressional pressure, and it has since ignored the US market. Apple and Samsung rely heavily on the US where smartphone purchases are falling thanks to an almost completely saturated market. If this trend continues, Huawei could surpass Samsung even as total phone shipments continue to drop.
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