Worldwide sales of smartphones to end-users declined by 5.4% in Q4 2020, according to new research from Gartner, capping off an overall 12.5% decline in full-year 2020. Apple and Xiaomi were the only two vendors of the top five to experience growth in 2020.
Apple's growth was largely due to the success of the iPhone 12, which helped the company surpass Samsung to regain the status of number one global smartphone vendor for Q4 2020. The last time Apple was the top quarterly vendor for smartphones was the fourth quarter of 2016.
Huawei saw the most significant decline among the top five vendors, mainly attributable to the ban on using Google applications on its smartphones, Gartner says.
Meanwhile, Samsung experienced a year-on-year decline of 14.6% last year, but this did not prevent it from retaining its number one global smartphone vendor position in full-year results. It faced tough competition from regional smartphone vendors such as Xiaomi, OPPO and Vivo as these brands grew more aggressive in global markets.
“The sales of more 5G smartphones and lower-to-mid-tier smartphones minimized the market decline in the fourth quarter of 2020,” says Gartner senior research director Anshul Gupta.
“Even as consumers remained cautious in their spending and held off on some discretionary purchases, 5G smartphones and pro-camera features encouraged some end users to purchase new smartphones or upgrade their current smartphones in the quarter.
“In 2021, the availability of lower end 5G smartphones and innovative features will be deciding factors for end users to upgrade their existing smartphones,” says Gupta.
“The rising demand for affordable 5G smartphones outside China will boost smartphone sales in 2021.
The bleak retrospective follows a more optimistic projection from Gartner released earlier this month: that global sales of smartphones will hit 1.5 billion units this year, representing an 11.4% increase from 2020.
“In 2020, consumers reduced spending on smartphones — but the availability of new products will see users drive a significant uptick in demand in 2021,” Gupta said in the previous report.
“The combination of delayed smartphone replacements and the availability of lower end 5G smartphones are poised to increase smartphone sales in 2021.” Gartner analysts expect smartphone sales in 2021 to be close to 2019 levels.
The analyst company says the rapid proliferation and availability of 5G networks and the increasing variety of 5G-capable smartphones will steer demand in mature markets and China.
Demand in emerging countries will be driven by buyers looking for a smartphone with better specifications and a 5G connectivity as an optional feature. Gartner forecasts 5G smartphones sales will total 539 million units worldwide in 2021, representing 35% of total smartphone sales in that year.