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Apple emerges as only smartphone maker to grow amid market decline

iPhone shipments rose last quarter as the only bright spot in an otherwise dour smartphone market, according to research firms IDC and Canalys.


Image: Apple

Apple was the sole smartphone vendor to thrive in the second quarter amid the damaging economic side effects of the coronavirus pandemic. Looking at the overall smartphone arena, global shipments fell by 16% to 278.4 million according to IDC and by 14% to 284.7 million according to Canalys.

SEE: Mobile device computing policy (TechRepublic Premium) 

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Though larger than the one in the first quarter, the drop was anticipated as countries around the world went into lockdown mode due to COVID-19. Specifically, IDC pegged the second-quarter decline on a few virus-related factors.

“Smartphones shipments suffered a huge decline in Q2 as they directly correlate to consumer spending, which had a massive reduction due to the global economic crisis and rising unemployment brought on by the widespread lockdowns,” Nabila Popal, research director with IDC’s Worldwide Mobile Device Trackers, said in a press release.

“This, combined with the closure of retail stores, especially in regions where online shopping is less common, compounded the negative effect on smartphone sales,” Popal added. “In addition, consumers spent significantly on other technologies, such as PCs, monitors, and tablets, to facilitate mandatory work from home and distance learning, leaving an even smaller share in the shrinking consumer wallet for smartphones.”


Image: IDC

In the face of the overall downturn, Apple saw its iPhone shipments and market share both increase during the quarter. Shipments rose by 11.2% to 37.6 million, earning the company a 13.5% slice of the market, according to IDC’s data. Canalys’s estimates for Apple were even higher, pointing to a 25% gain in shipments to 45.1 million with a 15.8% market share.

Both firms attributed Apple’s growth to the ongoing popularity of the iPhone 11 series and the launch of the 2020 iPhone SE. The new SE satisfied demand for lower cost phones at a time when consumers are seeking out more budget-friendly options. Apple also rode out some of the bumps of the COVID-19 crisis by enhancing the digital experience for customers as the lockdown forced smartphone buyers to turn to online resources.

“Apple defied expectations in Q2,” Canalys analyst Vincent Thielke said in a press release. “Its new iPhone SE was critical in the quarter, accounting for around 28% of its global volume, while iPhone 11 remained a strong best-seller at nearly 40%. iPhone SE will remain crucial to prop up volume this year, amid delays to Apple’s next flagship release.”


Image: Canalys

For the first time ever in a quarter, China’s Huawei slipped past Samsung to take the top spot in the smartphone market. By tapping into China’s resurgence following its bout with COVID-19 earlier this year, the company was able to satisfy the demands of consumers in the world’s largest smartphone market. Though its shipments actually dropped by 5%, that was a smaller decline than the ones felt by most other phone makers. But Huawei will face increased pressure across the global market due to sanctions in the US and elsewhere and ongoing suspicion that the company poses a security threat.

Stripped of its No. 1 title, Samsung saw its smartphone shipments plummet by around 30% in the second quarter. Though the company’s A-series of smartphones continued to do well, more premium devices such as the Galaxy S20 and the Galaxy Z Flip were victims of bad timing as they rolled out during the peak of the pandemic.

Shipments for Xiaomi and OPPO, China’s two other major smartphone vendors, also fell last quarter. Xiaomi was hurt by lower sales in both China and India, the effects of the lockdown, and anti-China sentiment in India. OPPO was hit by supply and demand issues with factory shutdowns as well as the ongoing anti-China attitude.

Looking ahead, smartphone vendors will need to adapt to the “new normal” of the pandemic, according to IDC senior analyst Ben Stanton. Even as several countries allowed retail stores to reopen, customer traffic has remained low.

“Going forward, vendors will need to switch channel focus at short notice to adapt to second-wave outbreaks,” Stanton said. “In addition, geopolitical uncertainty hangs over the global smartphone market. Countries are becoming polarized between the interests of the US and China. Smartphone vendors need to act, and many are already directing funds to brand marketing to highlight their positive impact in a local region.”

What about 5G? Under normal conditions, the rollout of more 5G phones and networks would provide a boost to the smartphone industry. But, with the virus continuing to hold on amid lockdowns and weak economic conditions, buyers may resist spending money on new phones, even with the lure of 5G.

“The question now becomes what does demand look like with so much uncertainty around the world,” Ryan Reith, vice president of IDC’s Worldwide Mobile Device Trackers, said in a press release. “We have already seen OEMs moving more aggressively with their 5G portfolios both in terms of production and price points. However, we still see consumer demand for 5G being low, so the supply-side push is likely to produce very high-priced competition.”

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