Consumer Electronics

Samsung Tops Apple in Smartphone Sales

Despite Apple Inc.’s (NASDAQ: AAPL) record quarter, it was bested by Samsung in global smartphone shipments over the course of 2020. It is a sign of the depth of Samsung’s product line and sales outside the United States. Even though the iPhone 12 is in what is known as a supercycle that has driven sales to new highs because of demand for 5G enable phones, Samsung’s lead is fairly large.

Overall, smartphone sales dropped last year, due mostly to the COVID-19 pandemic. Counterpoint Research data showed total shipments of 1.33 billion, down by 10%. Counterpoint Research Analyst Aman Chaudhary commented:

The market declined 10% YoY in CY 2020 due to the spread of COVID-19 and the resulting lockdowns, which impacted performance in the first half of the year. With the easing of lockdowns, the market rebounded in the second half thanks to pent-up demand being fulfilled by the streamlined supply chain. It is interesting to note that the market also made a distinct migration from feature phones to smartphones as the devices became a medium for education, work and entertainment. A strong 5G push by the industry through reduced device prices and operator tariffs further boosted the market’s recovery process.”


Samsung shipped 256 million units, down 14% in 2020 compared to 2019. Apple shipped 201 units, up by 3%. The four large Chinese manufacturers trailed: Huawei (down 21% to 188 million), Xiaomi (up 17% to 146 million), Oppo (down 7% to 112 million) and Vivo (down 5% to 109). The figures show the extent to which the large Chinese companies lost market share, particularly as Huawei sales outside China were shattered. Much of this was due to trade bans by the United States.

Apple traded places with Samsung in the fourth quarter. Global shipments in the period compared to the same one in the prior year were flat at 400 million. Apple grabbed the top spot in market share as shipments rose 13% to 82 million. That increase was due to the release of the iPhone 12. Samsung shipments dropped 11% to 63 million.

5G had a large effect on smartphone shipments in the fourth quarter. Centerpoint commented: “5G smartphones contributed to 34% of global smartphone shipments in Q4 2020 and are expected to be around two-thirds of total shipments in 2023.”