Gartner: Smartphone sales fell in Q4 2019, with mixed fortunes for Apple and Huawei

Total global smartphone sales fell in Q4 2019, though both Apple and Xiaomi recorded small year-on-year (YoY) increases.

New figures from Gartner indicate that consumers bought 406.6 million handsets in the last three months of 2019, compared to 408.5 million on the corresponding period a year earlier. Perennial smartphone leader Samsung sold marginally less units YoY, though its market share remained the same at 17.3%, while Apple shifted some 5 million more mobile devices compared to Q4 2018 — its market share increased by 1.3 percentage points, falling just short of Samsung.

Perhaps most notably here, Apple’s 7.8% sales increase reversed a trend that had seen four consecutive quarterly declines — this can perhaps be attributed to Apple lowering the price of its last flagship which launched in September.

“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,” noted Annette Zimmermann, research vice president at Gartner.

Huawei, which remains in third place overall, also saw a small decrease in sales for the fourth quarter. For context, the U.S. placed Huawei on a trade blacklist last year, meaning that it can no longer use Google’s version of Android which includes the full suite of Google apps. This restriction will have little impact in Huawei’s domestic Chinese market where the company uses its own forked version of Android anyway, but it will likely deter international consumers from buying Huawei devices in the long run — we can perhaps expect to see Huawei sales drop further as the impact of the trade ban takes effect on its future flagship phone sales.

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“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,” added Anshul Gupta, senior research analyst at Gartner

Elsewhere, China’s Xiaomi recorded a 5 million increase in smartphone sales during Q4, which saw its market share rise by 1.2 percentage points.

Above: Table 1: Worldwide Smartphone Sales to End Users by Vendor in 4Q19 (Thousands of Units)

Image Credit: Gartner

The bigger picture

With Gartner’s Q4 smartphone sales figures now in, this also gives a clearer picture of the state of play for the full calendar year. Samsung, Huawei, and Xiaomi all increased their smartphone sales last year, even though the overall sales dropped by 0.5% between 2018 and 2019. And although Apple ended 2019 on a high, the bigger picture for 2019 showed that iPhone sales fell by more than 15 million.

Above: Table 2: Worldwide Smartphone Sales to End Users by Vendor in 2019 (Thousands of Units)

Image Credit: Gartner

Huawei was the best performer overall YoY, with sales increasing by around 18 % to 48 million, elevating the Chinese company above Apple into second place with a market share of 15.6% — a full 3 percentage points ahead of its Cupertino counterpart.

With that in mind, it is worth pointing to one potentially positive side effect that the Google trade ban may have had on Huawei, as earlier reports indicated that the ban led to an increase in Huawei’s domestic sales in China, as consumers rallied patriotically behind the company. Indeed, Huawei grew its market share in China by 37% in 2019, according to Gartner.

So it was very much a mixed bag for both Apple and Huawei. On the one hand, Apple’s 2019 wasn’t particularly great, but the year ended well for the company. And while Huawei’s 2019 looked pretty good overall, its year ended on a slight sour note with a drop in sales.

As for 2020, the year ahead is shaping up to be an interesting one, shaped by numerous factors. Apple has already warned of the impact that the coronavirus will have on its Q2 revenue, while foldables will continue to enter the fray in various shapes and sizes, and 5G will gain a firmer foothold.

“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,” Gupta said.

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