IDC and Strategy Analytics have released their latest smartphone shipment numbers, and the clear winner of the last few months has been China’s Huawei, at the expense of incumbent global leaders Samsung and Apple, both of which lost ground.
Huawei has been flirting with the position of world’s second-largest smartphone vendor for a while, having taken over from Apple for the first time in 2017, before switching back and forth in 2018. The company’s improvement in 2019, however, appears to set it up with a firmer control of the second spot: Huawei jumped from 39.3 million phones shipped in the first quarter of 2018 to 59.1 million shipments in Q1 2019, as noted by both IDC and SA.
Apple’s iPhone shipments shrunk from 52.2 million in the quarter last year to what’s estimated to be between between 36 and 43 million (Apple recently stopped reporting iPhone sales in its earnings reports) for the same period this year. Samsung went from 78.2 million shipments to 71.9 million. In fact, without Huawei’s burgeoning growth, the smartphone market might aptly be described as experiencing its own form of recession. US carriers AT&T and Verizon last week reported that smartphone upgrades among their subscribers are at record lows, and other Chinese phone makers like Xiaomi and Oppo are mostly just holding steady with their sales numbers.
Other global brands that used to have significant presence in the phone market are suffering too. Sony’s sales keep dwindling, and the company has said it intends to halve the staff it has working on its mobile business. LG last week quit making phones in its home country of South Korea, opting to lower costs by shifting production to Vietnam. And HTC is only technically still in the mobile business by virtue of producing that zany blockchain phone.
Huawei is the exception, and in more ways than one. The company has been very publicly rejected by the United States government, and it has zero presence in that highly lucrative and developed market. All of its progress over the past year has been in its home territory of China and through successful expansion of its business in Europe.
Over the course of the past two years, which has been a time when Apple and Samsung have contented themselves with mostly iterative updates, Huawei has consistently made huge strides between every device release. The company has invested heavily in its camera hardware, which has paid off with terrific performance (currently unmatched in low light) and has stirred smartphone owners to hit the “upgrade” button.
The goal for Huawei has always been to become the top smartphone vendor in the world, which seemed like overzealous optimism only a few months ago. As of today, it feels closer to an inevitability. Huawei forecasts it will get out ahead of Samsung by the end of this year, and if its aggressive rate of improvement continues, there’s little reason to doubt it’s capable of achieving that high goal.