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Growth again in Q4, but global smartphone market slips back over 2019

It was a tough year, but smartphone big guns fire in fourth quarter of 2019, driven by resurgent Apple’s iPhone 11, and industry set for further spike in 2020

Predicting 2020 to be the year of the smartphone, research firm Canalys has revealed the smartphone industry ended what amounted to an overall disappointing 2019 on a high note, with Q4 seeing the second consecutive quarter of growth leading to a 1% annual increase in shipments totalling 369 million units.

The analysis of the final quarter of the year showed that despite still not having a 5G device, Apple led the market, exploiting strong demand for iPhone 11 models to increase 9% to 78 million units and claim a 23.1% share of the market.

Samsung maintained the positive momentum it showed throughout the year and shipped 71 million units, growing 1% to end up with 19.2% of the market.

Huawei took third place, but was the quarter’s big loser, with its first quarterly decline in two years. It slipped 7% as pressure from the ongoing US Entity List saga and non-China business offset solid growth in its domestic arena. Fellow Chinese suppliers Xiaomi and Oppo took fourth and fifth places, growing 23% to 33 million units and 2% to 30 million units respectively.

One of the success stories of Q4 came from emerging markets, and Chinese suppliers were found to be particularly diligent in developing regions over the past quarter.

The focus of such suppliers was to attack these markets with devices costing less than US$100, targeting the installed base of users still using feature phones. Canalys cited Vivo as a classic example, gaining what its analysts called “exceptional” success with the cheap Y91C in Indonesia this quarter. For all that, Canalys noted that Apple also saw success in emerging regions, attributing the uptake to the cheaper iPhone 11 tempting a broader base of customers than it is used to.

Summing up the state of the market at the end of 2019, Canalys described the fourth quarter as no less than an industry-wide success, given that eight of the top 10 suppliers grew in three-month period. “When we saw the first declines in global volume a couple of years ago, Canalys said the industry was moving from the growth era to the cyclical era. This is it,” said Canalys senior analyst Ben Stanton. “This growth spurt will not last forever, but will be one of a series of peaks and troughs as the customer refresh rate for smartphones reaches its new equilibrium point.”

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Despite the global market growth in both Q3 and Q4, Canlays found in its research that for 2019 as a whole, the worldwide smartphone market fell by 2% compared with 2018 to 1.37 billion units. By the end of 2019, Samsung retained its market leader in the 2019 smartphone market with a 21.8% share and 298.1 million units, growing 2%. Huawei was second with 17.6%, followed by Apple with 14.5%.

Assessing the twelve month period, Canalys analyst Mo Jia said the fortunes of Huawei and Samsung are the story of the year. “The year 2018 saw Huawei take huge chunks of Samsung’s market share. And 2019 was meant to be the year Huawei challenged Samsung for the number-one spot,” he said. “Samsung knew this and was ready for all-out war. It drastically increased its portfolio and slashed operating margin. But the battle never came, as Huawei’s placement on the US Entity List in May stifled it overseas.”

Looking forward to 2020, Jia noted that what was clear was that the smartphone is more important than ever, and it would be a crucial year form companies such as Huawei.

He noted that declines did not mean people were using smartphones less. In fact, he argued, people were more addicted to phones than ever.

“As Huawei prepares to launch its next wave of devices without Google Mobile Services (GMS), its objectives are now very different,” said Jia. “It must maintain as much channel support as it can in key markets such as Western Europe. It must curate a developer ecosystem to support HMS. And most importantly, it must maintain scale. If it loses scale, it loses developer interest.”

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