Smartphone vendors shipped nearly 400 million devices in the fourth quarter of 2015 thanks to strong sales during the holiday shopping season. That’s according to market research firm IDC's Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker. The sales volume represents 5.7 percent growth year-over-year.
There were 1432.9 million smartphones sold worldwide in all of 2015. according to IDC. That’s the highest-ever number on record, although the market could hit a plateau as some vendors report slowing sales. Samsung struggled in 2015. And despite record first quarter results, Apple CEO Tim Cook this week said in an earnings call that iPhone sales will most likely slow through March.
But Apple and Samsung are not the only players in the game. Huawei's strong showing for both the quarter and the year speak to how much it has grown as an international brand, according to Melissa Chau, senior research manager with IDC's Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker.
“While there is a lot of uncertainty around the economic slowdown in China, Huawei is one of the few brands from China that has successfully diversified worldwide, with almost half of its shipments going outside of China,” Chau said in a statement. “Huawei is poised to be in a good position to hold onto a strong number three over the next year."
Apple Is Not Declining
Apple saw minimal year-over-year growth in 2015, but its overall marketshare climbed to 16.2 percent. Apple was a big winner in China. Sales of the company's iPhones also increased in India and other emerging markets to drive a record-setting 2015 fourth quarter, followed by this week’s news of a record 2016 first quarter.
"A new record-setting quarter for Apple indicates consumers continued demand for Apple's latest offerings regarding upgraded hardware and software,” said Anthony Scarsella, research manager with IDC's Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker, in the statement. “Features such as a more widely accepted Apple Pay, increased performance, and the innovative Force Touch technology, continue to set the iPhone apart from the competition.”
Despite the revelation that device sales are declining at Apple, Roger Entner, principal analyst at Recon Analytics, told us he doesn’t think the company as a whole is on a decline. He said Apple continues to perform well in a challenging market.
“The issue with device sales is the macro trend of device financing, which basically has led to lower device sales. There’s nothing you can do about it. It’s a structural difference that has happened,” Entner said. “You can’t turn back time. Consumers have slowed down how often they replace their devices and the device manufacturers are suffering for it.”
For all the talk about Apple, Samsung is still the reigning champion in terms of market share. In the fourth quarter, Samsung shipped 85.6 units for a 14 percent year-over-year increase. For the year, Samsung shipped 324.8 million devices, up a slight 2.1 percent over 2014. Samsung has struggled in the middle of low-end Chinese-manufactured devices and Apple’s premium market, IDC noted.
Huawei won big in the fourth quarter, posting its best ever year-over-year growth of 37 percent. Huawei shipped over 100 million smartphones in 2015, the fourth vendor in history to hit that mark in a 12-month period. Meanwhile, a year after the Motorola acquisition, Lenovo is still struggling to find its place, IDC said.
Scarsella said competing vendors will need to bring value to consumers to stay relevant in a market where Apple rules the high end. He pointed to heavy saturation in many mature smartphone markets and the renewed focus on pushing premium-looking mid-tier devices as a new value proposition.
“Samsung has found success in this segment with its A-Series, and Huawei with its Honor brand,” Scarsella said. “We expect similar devices to appear in 2016 from a variety of vendors that will focus on affordable value without neglecting performance and aesthetics."