Global Smartphone Shipments Fall Again: Samsung & Apple Suffer, But Not Huawei

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The global smartphone market continued to see a decline in shipments during the fourth quarter of 2018, and rounded out a year which on the whole was worse than the year before. This is based on the latest results from the International Data Corporation (IDC).

According to the data, 375.4 million units in total were shipped during Q4, 2018, pushing the yearly total of shipments up to 1.4 billion units. At the quarter level, the IDC notes this represents the fifth consecutive quarterly decline and a drop of 4.9-percent compared to the same quarter in the year before.

At the yearly level, the drop was largely the same coming in at 4.1-percent.

This decline in smartphone shipments certainly seems to be affecting certain brands more than others with Samsung and Apple (the top two) the most obvious examples. In Samsung’s case, Q4 shipments came in at 70.4 million in 2018 compared to 74.5 million in 2017. This resulted in a yearly figure for Samsung of 292.3 million compared to 317.7 million in 2017.


Apple, albeit not to the same year-over-year degree saw similar declines. At the quarter level, their year-over-year decline was worse than Samsung’s (11.5-percent vs 5.5-percent), but at the yearly level it was better than Samsung’s (3.2-percent vs 8-percent).

One of the reasons the IDC cites for the overall market shipment drop is China. With high inventory and consumer spending seeing China’s contribution to the totals dropping by 10-percent.

China is said to account “for roughly 30% of the world’s smartphone consumption,” according to the IDC.

In spite of China seeing a double digit decline year-over-year with the knock on effect being a global decline, it is the Chinese device-makers who seem to be protected against the slowdown.


Leading the pack is Huawei, who in spite of its troubles in the US and elsewhere managed to ship 60.5 million units in Q4, 2018. To put this number into perspective, the same company only shipped 42.1 million units in Q4, 2017. The same level of growth was noted for the year as a whole with 206 million units shipped compared to only 154.2 million the year before. Placing the company in third behind Samsung and Apple, respectively.

The fourth and fifth-placed brands, Xiaomi and OPPO (also both Chinese) also saw big gains in spite of the market conditions. With Xiaomi shipping 122.6 million units in 2018 (compared to 92.7 million in 2017) and OPPO with a far more conservative increase to 113.1 million from 111.7 million in the year before.

In spite of what initially might seem paradoxical (China shipments slumping yet Chinese device-makers massively growing), it makes sense when honing in on the Chinese market. With China being such an important element to the global shipment numbers, whoever owns that market, partly owns shipments overall. On that note, China’s ‘big four’ homegrown device makers accounted for 78-percent of the Chinese market. This was up 12-percent compared to the 66-percent market share the big four held in 2017.

An element which highlights the likes of Samsung and Apple are not only feeling the spending squeeze elsewhere, but are increasingly being shut out of the Chinese market altogether.


This may prove to be an even greater issue going forward, as based on these results and the early 2019 indications so far, the IDC does not expect the declining trend to change soon.

Likewise, it probably should not be expected that Chinese device-makers will not continue to see growth in spite of the overall market declining, as well as Samsung and Apple continuing to struggle to return to growth.

The gap between Huawei and first-placed Samsung has never been smaller.