How smartphone brands performed during the pandemic?

Author- | Posted- | Updated: October 3, 2020 |

Smartphones, mobile phones, and wearables constitute a large part of the technical consumer goods industry that was worth $1.23 Trillion in 2018. In the same year, global smartphone sales amounted to $522 billion. However, the sales of premium smartphones were stronger in 2018 compared to the previous year.

According to Statista, the number of smartphone users globally grew to 3.2 billion in 2019 and is expected to grow to 3.5 billion in 2020 and 3.8 billion in 2021. With economic activity resuming in the second half of 2020, smartphone sales are expected to pick up. However, during the first half, Covid-19 sent smartphone sales spiraling downwards. The impact will lessen towards the second half of the year but for sales to pick up fully, it is going to take time. The economies that are also the largest smartphone markets will take some time to heal and the impact will remain until then. 

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic was drastic on the smartphone industry. Apart from supply chain disruption, the smartphone industry was also challenged by the sudden and sharp decline in economic growth in various key regions of the world. The markets most affected by COVID-19 were also the largest smartphone markets in the world. Currently, China is the largest smartphone market in the world, followed by India and the United States. While China was the first market that the pandemic affected, it was also the first to recover. 

It is why the Chinese brands like Huawei have seen their sales and number of shipments grow faster in the second quarter of 2020 compared to the other brands. In India, the impact of COVID-19 is growing to be worse than the rest of the world. Economic activity in India has declined at a sharper rate than the rest of the world including the US, following extended shutdowns due to the pandemic and the weakening of the economy thereafter. In the US, the economy has reopened but the impact of the pandemic is expected to remain there for longer. 

Samsung has continued to rule the smartphone industry as the largest brand in 2019 and the first quarter of 2020. During the second quarter, Huawei’s shipments were larger in number compared to Samsung. The credit primarily goes to the growing demand in China. However, considering the overall number of shipments during the year, Samsung is still a lot ahead of Huawei. As the situation improves towards the second half of the year, the company is expecting better sales and the number of shipments to grow.

According to data from counterpoint research, while the top ten smartphone companies gained market share during the pandemic, the smaller brands felt the effect of COVID-19 more severely. During the second quarter of 2020, while the top ten companies held 88% of market share in the smartphone industry compared to 80% during the second quarter last year, brands outside the top ten lost considerable market share. Their market share declined by 55% YOY.

Let’s look at how each of the leading smartphone brands has performed during the pandemic in terms of global shipments in the first half of 2020.

Smartphone shipments globally in the second quarter of 2020 in million units
Smartphone shipments globally in million units. Source: Counterpoint research.

Global performance of smartphone brands 2020 (Q1-Q2)

Samsung:

Samsung remained the largest smartphone brand during the first two quarters of 2020 based on the number of its total global shipments. While its number of shipments was considerably lower during the first two quarters of 2020 as compared to the same period last year, it was still higher than the other brands. The main reason behind the decline in shipments was that the core markets of Samsung were struggling to emerge from the effects of the pandemic. Its core markets like the USA, India, Europe, and LATAM were battling the impact of the pandemic. Due to the extended lockdowns in these market regions, the company experienced a decline of 29% YoY in its sales during the second quarter. 

Samsung shipped only 54.2 million smartphones during the second quarter of 2020 compared to 76.3 million in the same period during the previous year. The decline was relatively lower during the first quarter of 2020 when Samsung shipped 58.6 million units compared to 72 million during the same period in the previous year. However, the market share of Samsung remained nearly the same as the previous year during the first two quarters of 2020 except for a small decline of 1%. During the first two quarters of 2019, Samsung held a 21% market share in the global smartphone markets compared to 20% during the first two quarters of 2020. Compared to Samsung, its two closest rivals Apple and Huawei experienced a growth in market share during the second quarter. Samsung remained the leader during the first quarter of 2020 when it captured around one-fifth of the total global smartphone market.

In the Indian market, Samsung’s market share jumped sharply during the second quarter of 2020. Its market share in the Indian smartphone market in the first quarter of 2020 was 16%, which jumped to 36% in the second quarter of 2020. Samsung jumped from the third position to the second position in the Indian market during the second quarter after Xiaomi. 

Samsung has experienced a rise in its market share in the US smartphone market during the first two quarters of 2020. Its share in the US smartphone market was 32% in the first quarter and 25% in the second quarter of 2020 compared to 28% and 21% during the same period in the previous year.

Huawei:

Based on the number of shipments, Huawei was the largest smartphone brand during the second quarter of 2020. It continued to push for growth in the Chinese market and surpassed Samsung during the second quarter of 2020. Globally, its shipments declined by only 3% in the second quarter of 2020 compared to the same period during the previous year. It experienced a growth of 11% YoY in China, which is Huawei’s Largest market. China was the first leading smartphone market to recover from the effects of Covid-19. It is also the world’s largest smartphone market. The overall impact on Huawei shipments of the pandemic was comparatively a lot less heavy as compared to Samsung or the other Chinese brands like Vivo, Oppo, or Xiaomi. 

During the second quarter of 2020, the total number of shipments globally by Huawei numbered 54.8 million. Compared to that, the company shipped 56.6 million handsets during the second quarter of 2019. The decline was steeper during the first quarter of 2020. While the company shipped 59.1 million handsets during the first quarter of 2019, it shipped only 49 million handsets during the first quarter of 2020. The market share of Huawei in the global smartphone market was 20% in the second quarter of 2020 compared to 16% during the same period the previous year (slightly larger than that of Samsung). However, Huawei’s overall market share remained stable during the first quarter compared to the same period the previous year despite the lower number of shipments. Its market share in the first quarters of 2019 and 2020 was 17%.

Apple:

Based on the number of shipments, Apple looks in the best shape in the first two quarters of 2020 compared to the same period last year. While Huawei shipped around 12 million fewer shipments in the first two quarters of 2020 compared to the same period in 2019, Samsung shipped about 35 million fewer smartphone units. Apple shipped only 1 million fewer handsets in the first two quarters of 2020 compared to the same period last year. Apple’s number of shipments declined in the first quarter of 2020 compared to the same period the previous year but rose higher in the second quarter. During the first quarter of 2020, Apple shipped 40 million units compared to 42 million in the first quarter of 2019. However, during the second quarter of 2020, it shipped 37.5 million handsets compared to 36.5 million during the same quarter previous year. 

Apple’s market share also remained higher during the first two quarters of 2020 compared to the same period last year. In the first two quarters of 2020, its market share remained at 14%, respectively. However, during the first quarter of 2019, its market share was 12% and had declined to 10% during the second quarter of 2019. The company has successfully retained its third position in the smartphone market globally. Its iPhone shipments grew 3% YoY globally during the second quarter of 2020, and the company experienced revenue growth of around 2%. Apart from sustaining iPhone 11 sales, the company also had a strong start for iPhone SE. Apple also experienced revenue growth across all its market regions in the second quarter of 2020. Even during the pandemic, Apple remained more resilient compared to the other brands. Its shipments declined only 5% during the first quarter of 2020 compared to the same period last year, and iPhone revenues only 7% according to counterpoint research.

Apple has consistently maintained its leadership position in the US market. The company has experienced consistent growth in its market share in the US market throughout 2019. Its market share there was 49% in the last quarter of 2019. However, during the first two quarters of 2020, Apple’s market share remained at 46%. 

Xiaomi:

Xiaomi was the fourth largest brand globally during the first two quarters of 2020. Compared to the same period the previous year, its shipments grew during the first quarter of 2020 but declined in the second quarter. However, the company experienced a growth in its market share despite the overall decline in sales of smartphones globally.  Its market share during the first two quarters of 2020 was 10%. In the first two quarters of 2019, the market share of the company was 8% and 9% respectively. 

The number of shipments by Xiaomi during the first quarter of 2020 was higher than the same period during the previous year but fell during the second quarter of the year. In the first quarter of 2020, the company shipped 29.7 million smartphones compared to 27.8 million in the first quarter of 2019. On the other hand, the company shipped only 26.5 million units compared to 32.3 million units during the same period the previous year. 

The company experienced a 7% growth during the first quarter of 2020 compared to the same period last year. Xiaomi continued to maintain its leading market position in the Indian smartphone market. During the first quarter of 2020, its market share reached the highest since Q1 2018. In the first quarter of 2020, Xiaomi’s market share in India was 30% and declined to 29% in the second quarter of 2020. Xiaomi continues to rule the Indian market with Samsung and Vivo in the second and third positions. 

Compared to the same period last year, both Vivo and Realme experienced sharper growth during the first two quarters of 2020. Vivo’s market share in India remained 17% during the first two quarters of 2020 compared to 12% and 11% during 2019 (Q1 and Q2).  Realme’s market share in India in the first two quarters of 2020 was 14% and 11%  compared to 7% and 9% during the first and second quarters of 2019. Xiaomi and Samsung consistently maintained their leadership positions in the Indian market since 2018, where Xiaomi has consistently enjoyed a market share of 26% or above.

Oppo:

Oppo was at the fifth position in the smartphone industry during the first and second quarters of 2020. The company has retained its market share during the pandemic. Oppo’s market share was the same as the previous year during the first two quarters of 2020. However, its shipments declined during this period versus the last year. According to counterpoint research, Oppo is also among the top five brands in the Indian market.  The market share of Oppo was 8% and 9%, respectively, during the first two quarters of 2020 (same the first two quarters of the previous year).

The company shipped 22.3 million smartphone units worldwide in the first quarter of 2020 compared to 25.7 million during the same period last year. In the second quarter, the company shipped 24.5 million units compared to 30.6 million units during the same period. Oppo is also among the top five brands in the Indian smartphone market, where it retained a 9% market share during the second quarter of 2020 compared to 12% in the first quarter of the year.

Vivo:

Globally, Vivo remained in the sixth position during the second quarter of 2020. Its market share in the global smartphone market remained the same as the previous year during the first two quarters of 2020. Vivo shipped 21.6 million units in the first quarter of the year compared to 23.9 million during the same period the previous year. In the second quarter of 2020, the company shipped 22.5 million units compared to 27 million during the same period in 2019. The market share of the company remained unchanged despite the drop in the number of total shipments worldwide. Its market share during the first two quarters of 2020 was 7% and 8%, respectively, the same as the first two quarters of 2019.

Lenovo:

Lenovo also experienced a severe decline in the number of shipments worldwide during the first two quarters of 2020. Its market share in the first quarter of 2020 was 2% compared to 3% during the same period in the previous year. In the second quarter, however, the company’s market share jumped to 3%, which was the same as the second quarter in the last year. Lenovo shipped 5.9 million units in the first quarter of 2020 worldwide, compared to 9.5 million during the same period in the previous year.

In the second quarter of 2020, Lenovo’s global shipments jumped to 7.5 million compared to 9.5 million during the same period in the previous year. The company experienced a decline of around 21% in its shipments in the second quarter of 2020 compared to the same period during the last year.

Smartphone Shipments During the Pandemic in China

Smartphone brands China Market Share Q1 & Q2, 2020
Source: Counterpoint research.

China is the largest smartphone market in the world with approximately 712.8 million users as of 2018. The number of smartphone users in China is expected to grow to 868 million by 2023. The volume of smartphone shipments has risen steadily in China since 2011. During the first quarter of 2020, more than 88 million units were shipped in China or more than 30%  of the total shipments worldwide. In 2019, China alone accounted for more than 24% of the total smartphone shipments worldwide according to Statista

Despite the recent fluctuations caused by the coronavirus pandemic, China will remain the largest market for smartphones. Huawei is the largest smartphone brand in China based on the number of shipments. It shipped more than 140 million units in China in 2019. Since 2017, only Huawei has managed to grow its shipments in China. While Oppo and Vivo also gained market share at the expense of the smaller brands, their shipments have dropped.

According to Counterpoint Research, Huawei’s market share in 2020 grew substantially as compared to 2019. It was the only brand that experienced a significant increase in its market share in China. Vivo and Oppo were trailing Huawei and experienced a drop of 2% and 3% respectively in their market shares during the first two quarters of 2020 compared to the same period in the previous year. Xiaomi also experienced a drop of 1% in its market share for the same period. Apple, on the other hand, has retained its market share in China and achieved a growth of 1% in the second quarter of 2020 as compared to the same period during the previous year. 

Vivo’s market share declined 2% during the first and second quarters of 2020 compared to the same period in 2019. In the first quarter of 2020, Vivo’s market share in China was 17% compared to 19% during the same period in the previous year. In the second quarter, however, Vivo’s market share was reduced to 16% compared to 18% during the same period during the last year. Oppo’s market share in China was 15% in the first quarter of 2020 and 16% in the second. In 2019, its market share stood at 18% and 19% during the first and second quarters. 

Xiaomi was the fourth largest brand in the Chinese market in the first two quarters of 2020, followed by Apple. However, while Xiaomi experienced a drop of 1% in its market share in the Chinese smartphone market during the first two quarters of 2020 compared to the same period in the previous year, Apple’s market share improved in the second quarter 2020 compared to the same period in 2019.

Xiaomi held 11% and 10% market share in the first two quarters of 2020 compared to 12% and 11% during the same period in the previous year. Apple’s market share in China was at 9% during the first quarter of 2020 or the same as the first quarter of 2019. However, in the second quarter of 2020, its market share was 8% compared to 6% in the previous year during the same period. Samsung’s market share in China is much smaller compared to other brands. Its market share has mostly remained at 1% or lower in the Chinese smartphone market. However, the remaining brands experienced a sharper drop in their market share in China in the second quarter of 2020 compared to the same period in 2019. Their market share fell to 4% in the second quarter of 2020 compared to 10% during the second quarter of 2019. 

China also remained the largest market for 5G handsets during the second quarter of 2020. It accounted for around 72% of the 5G handset revenue during the quarter globally according to Counterpoint Research. Most of it was driven by Huawei’s push for 5G sales in its local market. China contributed around 34% of the smartphone revenue generated globally during the second quarter of 2020.

Smartphone Shipments During the Pandemic in India

Smartphone Brands Market Share in India (Q2 2020)
Source: Counterpoint Research.

India is the second-largest smartphone market in the world after China. Xiaomi is at the top in the Indian market followed by Samsung and Vivo. Realme and Oppo are at the fourth and fifth positions respectively in the Indian market as of the second quarter of 2020. 

Following the April and May lockdown, demand again surged to PreCOVID levels in India. The smartphone user base in the country grew past the half a billion mark. Due to the lockdown, smartphone demand in India during April was low. The result was that the smartphone market in India declined by 51% in the second quarter of the year compared to the same period in the previous year. 

Xiaomi’s market share in India grew 1% for each of the first two quarters of 2020 compared to the same period during the previous year. Its market share in the first two quarters of 2019 was 29% and 28%, respectively, which grew to 30% and 29% in the first two quarters of 2020. Samsung’s market share fell during the first quarter of 2020 compared to the same period last year. However, it rose during the second quarter compared to the same period the previous year. Its market share in the first quarter of 2020 was 16% compared to 23% during the same period last year. In the second quarter, its market share grew to 26% compared to 25% during the same period in 2019. Vivo, on the other hand, experienced impressive growth in its market share in the Indian market in the first two quarters of 2020 compared to 2019 Q1 and Q2. Its market share for the first two quarters of 2020 remained at 17% compared to 12% and 11% during the same period in 2019.

Realme and Oppo also experienced impressive year on year growth in their market shares during the first two quarters of 2020. Realme’s market share during the first two quarters of 2019 was 7% and 9%, respectively. It grew to 14% and 11% during the same period in 2020. Oppo’s market share increased from 7% and 8% during the first two quarters of 2019 to 12% and 9% during the first two quarters of 2020. The remaining brands experienced a considerable decline in their market shares during Q1 and Q2 of 2020 compared to the same period last year. Their market share declined to 11% and 8% during the first two quarters of 2020 compared to 22% and 19% during the same period last year.

In the Indian premium smartphone market, while Samsung and Apple held comparable market shares during 2019, OnePlus became the largest Indian premium smartphone brand during the same year. One Plus was also the first premium smartphone brand with more than 2 million shipments in a  year. However, Apple has experienced fast growth in its market share in the premium smartphone market segment in India. 

Smartphone Shipments and Sales During the Pandemic in the US

Market share of smartphone brands in the US (Q2, 2020)
Market share of smartphone brands in the US (Q2, 2020); Source: Counterpoint research.

Apple has emerged as the most resilient smartphone brand during the pandemic globally. In the US market, which is the third-largest smartphone market in the world, Apple continued to retain its number one position during the first two quarters of 2020. While Apple and Samsung experienced significant improvement in their market shares during this period compared to the previous year, the other brands lost market shares. 

Apple’s market share in the US smartphone market improved to 46% for each of the first two quarters of 2020 compared to 39% and 41% during the same period in the previous year. Apple was the only brand to have experienced such a significant increase in its market share during this period. Samsung, on the other hand, experienced a growth of 4% in its market share during the same period. Its market share in the US stood at 28% and 21% respectively during the first two quarters of 2019 from which it increased to 32% in the first quarter of 2020 and 25% in the second quarter.

LG and Lenovo both lost market shares in the Q1 and Q2 of 2020 as compared to the same period in 2019. LG’s market share fell by only one percent during each of the two quarters compared to the previous year. In the first quarter of 2020, LG’s market share was 10% compared to 11% during the same period in the previous year. During the second quarter of 2020, LG’s market share saw a slight improvement but remained lower than in the same period in the previous year. LG held a 12% market share in the second quarter of 2020 compared to 13% during the same period in the previous year. Lenovo’s market share shrank to 4% during the first quarter of 2020 compared to 8% during the same period the previous year. Towards the second quarter of 2020, Lenovo’s market share improved as compared to the previous quarter but remained lower than in the same quarter the previous year. At 7% Lenovo held the smallest market share of the largest four brands in the US market during the second quarter of 2020.

All the remaining brands together experienced a considerable decline in their market share against the four most prominent brands in the US smartphone market. Their market share dropped to 10% in the second quarter of 2020 compared to 17% during the same period the previous year. 

The main reason that Samsung and Apple retained their lead and market shares in the first two quarters of 2020 in the American smartphone market was that these companies had a strong online presence. If the other brands experienced a significant fall in sales then it was mainly because they lacked strong e-commerce capabilities. According to Counterpoint research, the US smartphone sell-through fell 25% year over year. The share of online sales of smartphones in the US market during the second quarter of 2020 was 31% as compared to 14% during the same period the previous year. Apple’s launch of iPhone SE at the end of April also helped the brand maintain its market share. Meanwhile, Apple launched its own online store in India in September. Apart from its entire range of products, its online store will also bring some additional services for the first time to the Indian market.

Higher Average Selling Price of Smartphones Globally Driven by Premium and 5G Sales

The spread of the Covid-19 pandemic sent the demand for smartphones spiraling downwards globally during the first quarter of 2020. During the second quarter, while the demand grew compared to the previous quarter, the overall impact of the pandemic on sales and shipments of smartphones has been drastic. Huawei emerged as the new winner during the second quarter of the year since its sales and shipments grew the fastest in China, which was the first market to recover from the impact of the pandemic. While Samsung was down in the second position during the second quarter, overall, it is still at the top during the first half of the year. The pandemic has put the resilience of the supply chains and distribution networks of smartphone brands to test. However, Apple proved itself the most resilient brand during the pandemic. In the US market, Apple and Samsung could survive the blow from the pandemic because of their strong e-commerce presence. Globally, while the largest brands fared well during the first half of the year, the smaller brands lost market share considerably. 

According to Counterpoint research, despite the fall in demand during the second quarter of 2020, the average selling price of smartphones went up. The shipments of smartphones declined 23% in Q2 2020, compared to the same period the previous year, but the average selling price of smartphones grew by 10%. Overall, the smartphone industry also experienced a decline of 15% in revenue year on year during the quarter. Except for Latin America, all the other regions in the world experienced growth in the average selling prices of smartphones. There are various regions behind this increase in the average selling price of smartphones globally. First of all, the premium smartphone brands have proved to be more resilient than the affordable segment. The impact of the pandemic was lower on the higher end market compared to the lower end, which also led to growth in the ASP of smartphones. Apart from that, the demand for iPhones was another proof that premium brands remained more resilient than others. While most other brands experienced a decline in smartphone demand during the second quarter of 2020, Apple experienced a growth of 3% during this period. Its iPhone revenues also increased by 2% year on year during the same period. 

Smartphone Wholesale ASP by Region Q2 2020.
Source: Counterpoint research.

Some latest trends, like changing consumer behavior globally, the growing dependence of people and businesses on digital technology, and smartphones for productivity, entertainment, and shopping, drove the demand for smartphones during the pandemic. The growth of smartphone ASPs was also caused to some extent by the increase in 5G shipments. While 5G shipments were only 10% of the global smartphone shipment volume during the second quarter of 2020, they contributed to 20% of the total smartphone revenue generated during the period. China remained the largest market for 5G and drove almost 72% of the global 5G handset revenue during the period.

Overall, while in China during the second quarter of 2020, smartphone ASP grew 12% compared to the same period last year, the region also contributed to more than 34% of the global smartphone revenue during the same period. This was the highest China has contributed to global smartphone revenue since the year 2016. However, the primary reason behind this factor was that while the other leading markets were still reeling due to the Coronavirus pandemic, China was on its path to full recovery. 

The premium segment enjoyed healthy demand during the second quarter of 2020, but the lower tier models experienced a severely negative impact on their demand. Consumers buy the lower tier models offline mainly but due to lockdowns in most of the global markets, offline sales channels remained closed. Apart from that, the middle class and lower-middle-class consumers were avoiding any kind of discretionary purchases. This factor also led to the growth in smartphone ASP. China and Asia Pacific regions experienced the highest growth in ASP followed by North America and Europe. Apple has overall proved to be the smartest and most resilient player in the smartphone industry during the second quarter. It did not just capture around one-third of the global smartphone revenue but also round 59% of the global smartphone industry profit during the second quarter of 2020. Huawei and Samsung followed Apple in terms of global smartphone revenue during Q2 2020. While Huawei managed to grab 20% of the entire smartphone revenue, Samsung managed to grab 17%.

Abhijeet Pratap

Abhijeet has been blogging on educational topics and business research since 2016. He graduated with a Hons. in English literature from BRABU and an MBA from the Asia-Pacific Institute of Management, New Delhi. He likes to blog and share his knowledge and research in business management, marketing, literature and other areas with his readers.