Analysts at Gartner have been tracking the global smartphone industry since 2004. Thursday morning the firm reported that global smartphone sales to end users declined by 5.6% year over year in the fourth quarter of 2017, the first decline that the analysts have ever recorded.
The world’s leading maker of smartphones, Samsung, sold 3.6% fewer smartphones last quarter, and Apple Inc. (NASDAQ: AAPL), the world’s second-largest seller of smartphones, saw unit sales drop 5% in the quarter. Samsung’s global market share increased from 17.8% a year ago to 18.2%, while Apple added just 0.1 percentage point to post a fourth-quarter share of 17.9%.
Two Chinese vendors — numbers three and four in the rankings, Huawei and Xiaomi — posted gains in both unit sales and market share. Huawei’s volume rose about 7.6%, and the company added 1.4 points of share to nab 10.8% of the global market. Xiaomi had a sales rise of nearly 80% to boost its share from 3.6% a year ago to 6.9%.
Gartner analyst Anshul Gupta said:
Two main factors led to the fall in the fourth quarter of 2017. First, upgrades from feature phones to smartphones have slowed down due to a lack of quality “ultra-low-cost” smartphones and users preferring to buy quality feature phones. Second, replacement smartphone users are choosing quality models and keeping them longer, lengthening the replacement cycle of smartphones. Moreover, while demand for high quality, 4G connectivity and better camera features remained strong, high expectations and few incremental benefits during replacement weakened smartphone sales.
Samsung sold 74.03 million smartphones in the fourth quarter to Apple’s 73.18 million. Huawei sold 43.89 million and Xiaomi sold 28.19 million, while Oppo sold 25.66 million and all others sold 162.91 million, for a total of 407.85 million total units. That’s down from 432.14 million units sold in the fourth quarter of 2016.
For all of 2017, Gartner reported total sales of 1.54 billion units, up 2.7% from the 2016 total of 1.5 billion units sold. Samsung sold 321.26 million units last year (up 0.4 percentage points) to Apple’s 214.92 million units (down the same amount).
Samsung is due to launch its latest flagship phone, the S9, this weekend at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. Gartner thinks the new devices “are likely to boost Samsung’s smartphone sales in the first quarter of 2018.”
As for Apple, Gupta commented, “We expect good demand for the iPhone X to likely bring a delayed sales boost for Apple in the first quarter of 2018.”
Regardless of Samsung’s volume lead, Apple walked away with more than half of fourth-quarter revenue generated by global smartphone sales from all manufacturers. That may be the most important data point.