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Just two smartphone makers saw growth in Q4 2019 as global sales decline

04 Mar 2020

Apple and Xiaomi were the only smartphone vendors in the top five to achieve growth in the fourth quarter of 2019, as global sales to end users declined 0.4% year over year, according to a recent study.

The research conducted by Gartner also revealed a newcomer for second place in global sales internationally.

“2019 ended a little better than expected, due to slightly improved performances from North America and emerging Asia/Pacific,” says Gartner senior research analyst Anshul Gupta.

“However, India, which sold 151.9 million units, overtook the U.S. to become the No. 2 country for smartphone sales in 2019. 

“China maintained the lead, with sales of 390.8 million smartphones over the full year.”

Apple sales perform in developing markets

Apple’s growth in Q4 signalled an end to four consecutive quarters of decline, seeing a 7.8% increase in the final quarter of last year.

“A slight lowering of the prices of the iPhone 11 series, compared with the iPhone XR, and other price reductions for previous-generation iPhone models, increased demand," says Gartner research vice president Annette Zimmermann.

"It also helped Apple regain the No. 2 position.”

Sales of iPhones were particularly strong in the world’s largest national market, China, where they grew by 39% in the fourth quarter. 

Apple also performed strongly in certain mature and developing markets, such as the U.K., France, Germany, Brazil and India.

Expectations from analysts at Gartner project the launch of a 5G-compatible iPhone from Apple in this year’s third quarter.

Xiaomi increases prices 

The other vendor seeing growth, Xiaomi, saw smartphone sales totalling 32.4 million units in the fourth quarter of 2019 — a 16.5% increase, year over year. 

“This strong performance enabled Xiaomi to overtake OPPO and take the No. 4 spot,” says Gupta. 

“The price and performance of Redmi models drove Xiaomi’s smartphone sales growth, and the company did particularly well in emerging Asia/Pacific.”

In China, Xiaomi implemented an opposite tactic to Apple with its iPhone 11 – increasing its smartphone prices to increase profits, according to Gartner.

However, the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus in China presents some challenges to retail-focused vendors such as OPPO and Vivo, but creates opportunity for Xiaomi, which has been expanding its online channel strategy.

Samsung and Huawei battle for foldables market

Despite not achieving growth in Q4 2019, Samsung held on to the No. 1 position with 17.3% market share, with Apple maintaining the No. 2 position with 17.1% of the market.

Samsung also increased its full-year sales by 0.4% to 296.2 million units.

The study shows Samsung’s revamp of its midtier and entry-level smartphones in 2019 was successful.

The launch of the Galaxy S10 Lite and Galaxy Note 10 Lite in early January 2019 attracted price-conscious buyers of premium smartphones.

It also innovated with its new foldable smartphone to counter the threat from Huawei. 

“The fierce battle between Samsung and Huawei in the foldable phone market will be interesting to follow this year, as each vendor takes a different approach,” says Gupta. 

“Samsung has switched from a horizontal to a vertical fold in the Galaxy Z Flip and reduced this phone’s size and price. 

“Huawei has launched the Mate Xs — with Huawei Mobile Services now accessible via the Huawei AppGallery worldwide and increased its price.”

Of the top five smartphone vendors, Huawei experienced the highest growth in 2019 with an overall annual increase of 18.6%. 

Still grappling with an extended ban from the US, Huawei grew its market share in China by 37% in 2019, due mainly to its aggressive strategy in its home market, according to Gartner.

“If Huawei continues to face a ban on accessing technology from the U.S. in 2020, its smartphone prospects in the international smartphone market will be severely impacted,” says Gupta.

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