Smartphones are getting slaughtered, but iPhone fares better than most

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iPhone 11 Pro
Things were bad. For Apple, they could have been worse.
Photo: Daniel Romero/Unsplash

Smartphone shipments took a major tumble in the first quarter of 2020 as coronavirus wreaked havoc on the supply chain and demand. That’s the conclusion drawn by three of the top mobile-tracking research firms, Strategy Analytics, Canalys, and IDC.

While their numbers don’t all tally perfectly they tell the same overall picture. While Apple wasn’t immune to the decline, however, it fared better than some of its rivals.

Strategy Analytics: Smartphones took a tumble

In total, the firm claims shipments declined 17% in the quarter to hit 275 million units. While Apple shipments fell, however, it actually wound up gaining marketshare since its decline was less than rival brands. That’s not exactly good news, but at least it’s not as bad as it could have been.

“iPhone shipments fell a better-than-expected 9% annually from 43.1 million units worldwide in Q1 2019 to 39.2 million in Q1 2020,” Woody Oh, Director at Strategy Analytics, said in a statement. “Apple’s global smartphone marketshare has risen from 13 percent to 14 percent in the past year. Apple’s new iPhone SE model with lower pricing and larger presence in emerging markets like India will give volumes a further bump in the coming months.”

According to Strategy Analytics’ figures, Apple captured 14.% of the overall smartphone market. Samsung came in first place with 21.2%, followed by Huawei with 17.6%. The firm thinks that Apple shipped 39.2 million handsets in the quarter. Samsung, for its part, shipped 58.3 million for a 19% drop, followed by Huawei’s 48.5 million shipments for an 18% drop.

Canalys: Demand has been crushed by COVID-19

Canalys echoed Strategy Analytics’ findings, saying that demand has been “crushed” by coronavirus. The firm estimated shipments declining 13% worldwide in Q1 to hit 272 million units. Canalys shows the same order to the top three, but with slightly different figures.

They claim Samsung declined 17% to 60 million, while Huawei fell the same percentage to hit 49 million shipments. Apple, meanwhile, was reportedly down 8% to 37 million shipments. All of these figures are within margin of error of Strategy Analytics’.

“Few smartphone vendors were able to withstand the impact,” said Canalys Analyst Shengtao Jin. “Samsung was in a positive position in February, due to its manufacturing focus in Korea and Vietnam. But this advantage quickly dissipated as COVID-19 spread around the world. Apple was one of the least affected vendors, owing to strong sales of the iPhone 11 in the early stages of the quarter. Its recent iPhone SE launch is strategically vital, as Apple needs to prop up iPhone shipments as its flagship customers await 5G devices.”

IDC: Consumer demand is flatlining

Finally, International Data Corporation (IDC) wrote that worldwide smartphone shipments decreased 11.7% year-over-year in the first quarter of 2020. They think that approximately 275.8 million handsets shipped in the first three months of the year. This is the largest annual decline in its records.

“What started as primarily a supply-side problem initially limited to China has grown into a global economic crisis with the demand-side impact starting to show by the end of the quarter,” said Nabila Popal, research director with IDC’s Worldwide Mobile Device Trackers. “While the supply chain in China started to recover at end of the quarter, as IDC expected, major economies around the world went into complete lockdown causing consumer demand to flatline.”

For the quarter, IDC says that Samsung shipped 58.3 million smartphones to take 21.2% share of the market. Its shipments represented an 18.9% year-over-year decline. Huawei, in second place, had a 17.8% share of the global smartphone market, despite a decline in shipments of 17.1% to 49 million.

The firm estimates that Apple shipped 36.7 million iPhones in the first quarter of 2020. This added up to a 13.3% share. However, it notes that shipments were down only 0.4% year-over-year. This is the lowest annual decline among the top three vendors.

Smartphones took a tumble, and it’s not over

Apple gave its quarterly earnings Thursday. (Slightly confusingly, it refers to them as its Q2 earnings since Apple’s financial year starts in the last quarter of the calendar year.)

“It was a very unique quarter,” Apple CEO Tim Cook said during the earnings call. “I’ve never had anything quite like this. I hope to never have it again, but I’m incredibly proud of the company and what was achieved during that period of time.”

Apple doesn’t give unit sales or shipments for the iPhones any more. However, iPhone revenue was down 7% year-over-year. Nonetheless, the company managed to beat expectations.

Don’t expect things to get a whole better next quarter, though. A Thursday report from market intelligence firm TrendForce said that global smartphone production could decline a record 16.5% in the second quarter of this year.