As global smartphone market recovered, Apple shipped record iPhones in fourth quarter of 2020

The global smartphone market declined by 1% YoY in the fourth quarter of 2020, according to the latest research from Counterpoint’s Market Monitor service. However, the market rose by 8% QoQ in the fourth quarter of 2020, recovering from the global impact of COVID-19.

The quarter experienced a subdued recovery from the pandemic especially in areas like Western Europe and LATAM due to the emergence of new strains of the virus coupled with a spike in new infections.

Commenting on the market dynamics, Research Analyst, Aman Chaudhary said: “The market declined 10% YoY in CY 2020 due to the spread of COVID-19 and the resulting lockdowns, which impacted performance in the first half of the year.  With the easing of lockdowns, the market rebounded in the second half thanks to pent-up demand being fulfilled by the streamlined supply chain. It is interesting to note that the market also made a distinct migration from feature phones to smartphones as the devices became a medium for education, work and entertainment. A strong 5G push by the industry through reduced device prices and operator tariffs further boosted the market’s recovery process.”

Counterpoint Research: Global Smartphone Shipment Market Share CY 2019 and CY 2020

  • Samsung retained its top spot, shipping 255.7 million units in CY 2020, down by 14% YoY. The decline is mainly due to a slow fourth quarter of 2020 due to intensifying competition. Samsung is facing stiff competition in the mid segment from the Chinese OEMs and in the premium segment from the iPhone 12 series.
    For the fourth quarter of 2020, Apple captured the top spot in the Global Smartphone Market. The pent-up demand for a new 5G iPhone, strong carrier promotions, especially in the US, and the iPhone 11’s longevity are some of the reasons for this growth.
  • Despite the sanctions and severe component shortages after the escalated US trade ban, Huawei managed to achieve the Number 3 spot for CY 2020, thanks to its strong performance in China, which contributed around 70% of its total shipments. Huawei’s performance was driven by new 5G models such as the Mate 40 Pro and Nova 7.
  • realme became the fastest growing brand for the year, growing 65% YoY in shipment volume.
  • Xiaomi global smartphone shipments grew 31% YoY to 43 million units in the fourth quarter of 2020. In China, Xiaomi’s shipments increased 46% YoY to 12 million units due to the Single’s Day sales season and HONOR’s weakening performance. Xiaomi continued to enjoy an impressive growth driven by its hot-selling models such as the Redmi 9, Redmi 9A and Redmi 10X especially in the overseas market and mainly in Europe. This growth came at the expense of Huawei and HONOR.
  • OPPO grew by 8% YoY and 10% QoQ to achieve a 9% market share (34 million units) in the fourth quarter of 2020. Notably, this was also the first time OPPO and vivo surpassed Huawei to capture the fourth and fifth spots, respectively. Commenting on OPPO’s performance, Chaudhary said: “OPPO’s strong performance was driven by its aggressive strategies to expand its presence in the overseas markets, particularly in Europe and the MEA (the Middle East and Africa). The brand leveraged the opportunity created by the absence of Huawei in major international markets. OPPO also performed well in the India market with its shipments growing 11% YoY in 2020. This growth was driven by pre-festive season promotions in October. Additionally, we saw the brand marking its entry into the IoT ecosystem through products such as Smart TVs.”

Counterpoint Research: Global Smartphone Shipment Market Share Q4 2020While the overall market continued to rebound from the ill effects of COVID-19, 5G also continued to grow. Commenting on the 5G scenario, Senior Research Analyst, Harmeet Singh Walia said: “5G shipments continued to accelerate registering a 120% QoQ jump in Q4. The overall 5G smartphone penetration increased to 34% of total smartphone shipments compared to 17% in the previous quarter. The growth was driven by the launch of the iPhone 12 and a strong portfolio of products from brands like OnePlus, OPPO, Xiaomi and vivo in the sub-$300 price band. Also, there was a large pent-up demand for 5G phones, especially within the iOS base. China accounted for ~40% of the total 5G smartphones shipped in CY 2020. Apple’s entry will be a strong influence in driving 5G adoption outside China in 2021.” 

Other key takeaways:

  • Samsung shipped 62.5 million units in the fourth quarter of 2020, down by 11% YoY mainly due to the increase in Apple shipments across regions. The Galaxy A series, a mid-to-low-end product lineup continued to perform well.
  • Tecno performed well in key African markets such as Kenya, Uganda, and Nigeria. It gained 11% YoY and 22% QoQ. The Camon 15 and Pouvoir series were the major volume drivers. The newly launched Spark 5 is expected to further drive the performance in coming quarters.
  • Continuing its push in the global market, vivo surpassed Huawei during the quarter. The brand registered 6% YoY growth during the quarter, driven by a strong growth momentum in overseas markets, such as in Africa and Middle East and Southeast Asia. The brand also introduced a new operating system OriginOS, which comes with a host of visual changes and offers several features such as Klotski Grid, Nano Alerts, Live Wallpapers, Enhanced Memory Fusion Technology 1.0, and Multi-Turbo 5.0.
  • Google performance improved over the quarter driven by the Pixel 4A and Pixel 5. It offered attractive discounts on its new range of 5G devices in the US which emerged as a strong alternative to other mid-range Android devices.
  • Motorola declined 16% in the fourth quarter of 2020. The brand is attempting to shift presence from prepaid to postpaid channels through significant promotions such as $400-off with the new RAZR and $50 to $300 off with other products. The Moto G Stylus and Moto G Fast remain the best-selling models for the brand.
  • LG was stronger with device launches. The fourth quarter of 2020 was an improvement both for K-series and 5G devices such as the LG Wing.
  • 5G smartphones contributed to 34% of global smartphone shipments in the fourth quarter of 2020 and are expected to be around two-thirds of total shipments in 2023.


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