Samsung surpassed Apple in mobile chip market share and entered 2020 as the world's third-largest manufacturer of smartphone application processors (APs). That's according to Counterpoint Research, as as reported in the newest edition of its chipset tracker. The quarterly insights primarily focus on production volumes, which makes them reliable indicators of yearly handset shipments by brand.
The industry watcher's data reveals Samsung and Huawei are the only chipset makers that grew their mobile businesses in 2019. What's even more amazing is that the Chinese giant did so from an unenviable position. Namely, Huawei remains burdened by U.S. trade sanctions crippling its supply chains. Its AP arm – HiSilicon – has been feeling the effects of the American embargo like no other Huawei subsidiary.
In the meantime, Qualcomm saw its AP operations plateau, dropping to just over a third of the total global market. MediaTek didn't fare much better as it shrunk to less than a quarter of the overall industry output. Counterpoint Research predicts Samsung will maintain this positive momentum throughout 2020. However, it's expected to do so without so much as feigning a direct threat to the leading duo.
Samsung & Huawei clawing chip market share with 5G
Yet it's notable that Samsung and Huawei's estimated annual expansion rates are similar, standing at 2.2 and 2.5 points, respectively. In other words, Qualcomm and MediaTek account for the majority of that 4.7-point difference. Apple, on the other hand, recorded a flatter peak with a 0.5% decline year-over-year. An optimistic Cupertino investor may argue every other silicon manufacturer combined lost ground three times as fast in 2019. However, that would be a textbook example of a strawman argument; it's not like companies such as Unisoc were ever anywhere close to being major AP suppliers in the smartphone era.
Counterpoint Research points to 5G as a key factor contributing to Huawei and Samsung's market share inroads. Both companies directed massive resources at related R&D efforts, striving to fully embrace the next wireless revolution. But what's likely even more important is the inclusive business strategy permeating those bets. Instead of a sluggish trickle-down approach to 5G connectivity, Samsung and Huawei pursued its non-flagship implementations almost immediately. As with all things concerning consumer electronics, early accessibility commitments are a pretty straightforward road to mainstream adoption.
Not to diminish the immediate effects of Huawei's domestic refocusing, of course. If anything, the fact its first reaction to sanctions from the world's strongest economy amounted to an overall net positive is a great reminder of how absolutely colossal Huawei – the mobile business – truly is.