With both IDC and Gartner now weighing in, we can definitively state that the smartphone market contracted in 2018, with the shortfall worsening in the fourth quarter.
Handset makers sold approximately 392 million units in the fourth quarter, down 2.24 percent from the 401 million units sold in the year-ago quarter. For calendar year 2018, smartphone makers sold 1.48 billion handsets overall, compared to 1.5 billion the previous year. That’s a drop-off of 1.33 percent. (By comparison, PC sales fell just 1 percent in 2018 overall.)
“Demand for high-end smartphones continued to slow in the fourth quarter of 2018,” Gartner’s Anshul Gupta said in his firm’s look at the fourth quarter. “Slowing incremental innovation at the high end, coupled with price increases, deterred replacement decisions for high-end smartphones.”
“Globally the smartphone market is a mess right now,” IDC’s Ryan Reith, sounding a bit more of an alarm. “Outside of a handful of high-growth markets like India, Indonesia, Korea, and Vietnam, we did not see a lot of positive activity in 2018. We believe several factors are at play here, including lengthening replacement cycles, increasing penetration levels in many large markets, political and economic uncertainty, and growing consumer frustration around continuously rising price points.”
Samsung emerged as the world-biggest maker of smartphones, again, with about 294 million units sold. And Apple was a distant number two, with 209 million units sold. But both experienced significant drops in unit sales and market share. Samsung unit sales fell 8 percent YOY, from 319.5 million units in 2017. And Apple unit sales fell 3 percent, to 215.4 million units.
Huawei, which had briefly surpassed Apple in 2018, ended the year in third place with 204.5 million units sold, for a massive a gain of 25.5 percent. Fourth-place Xiaomi likewise saw huge growth in 2018, with unit sales hitting 122.5 million units, for an even bigger gain of 26 percent. China-based OPPO came in fifth, with 116 million units sold.