Mobile

Canalys: Samsung led Q3 smartphone shipments, Xiaomi knocked Apple out of the top 3

Samsung reclaimed its “top smartphone vendor” title from Huawei in Q3 2020, according to the latest figures from Canalys, while Apple slipped into fourth place behind Xiaomi — the first time that the iPhone maker has been outside the top three in at least 12 years.

While smartphone shipments were down 1% on the corresponding period last year, Canalys figures suggest that they increased by 22% on Q2 2020, a period in which much of the world was still in lockdown. But digging into the trajectories of the main smartphone players reveals some interesting insights, and to some degree reflect the state of the world in 2020.

Trade turmoil

For the previous quarter (Q2 2020), Huawei had hit the top spot, representing the first time in nine years that a company other than Samsung or Apple had been in pole position in a given quarter. This was particularly notable given the U.S. trade ban that has prevented Huawei from using the Google version of Android, though in truth Huawei’s rise was more indicative of a domestic sales boost in China where it has never used Google’s Android anyway.

This time around, it seems that Huawei’s international woes have caught up with it, as its newer flagship devices have gone to market sans Google Mobile Services. Anyone wishing to buy a Huawei flagship online in 2020 will likely see a warning message similar to this:

Above: Huawei warning message on third-party retailer website

As such, fellow Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi has grown its shipments by 45% year-on-year (YoY), shifting 14.5 million more units, while Huawei’s shipments fell by 15.1 million (23%) to 51.7 million. In Europe specifically, which has been a key market for Huawei, Xiaomi shipments grew by 88% while Huawei fell 25%.

In the process, Xiaomi reduced the market share deficit between the two companies from around 10 percentage points to less than two percentage points.

Above: Worldwide smartphone shipments and annual growth
Canalys Smartphone Market Pulse: Q3 2020

Moreover, Xiaomi also entered the top three smartphone vendors for the first time ever, nudging Apple into fourth place in the process. According to Canalyst senior tech analyst Ben Stanton, we have to go back a long way to find the last time Apple sat outside the top three — right back to the days when Nokia ruled the roost, and Apple was battling with Motorola for third place.

“Apple did spend some quarters outside of the top three when iPhone was fairly nascent, but it has been a top three vendor for every quarter since Q3 2008, until now,” Canalyst senior tech analyst Ben Stanton told VentureBeat.

Samsung, for its part, has remained reasonably steady from year to year, with shipments up 2% and its market share growing marginally. However, the quarter-on-quarter (QoQ) story is what’s interesting here, as its shipments increased by 50% across the two periods. This can be attributed to a number of factors, one being that Samsung leans heavily on offline retail channels which were decimated in Q2 due to the global lockdown — the Korean technology titan had seen its smartphone shipments fall by an incredible 30% YoY, compared to just -5% and -10% for Huawei and Xiaomi respectively, while Apple bucked the downward trend by growing its shipments by 25%.

This time around, stores have largely reopened, even if footfall isn’t at pre-pandemic levels. Moreover, Canalys analyst Shengtao Jin attributed Samsung’s recovery to “pent-up demand” from Q2 spilling over into Q3, while growth in India also helped. Add a handful of new low-to-mid-range smartphones to the mix, and a greater push toward online sales, and this has created fertile ground for Samsung to flourish.

While Apple did announce its latest flagship phones slightly later this year, coming in October rather than at its usual September launch event, so this could have had some impact on these figures. However, it’s difficult to draw any direct correlations between this and Apple’s decline into fourth place, as its shipments only declined marginally YoY. These figures are slightly more pronounced when compared to the previous quarter, however Apple had launched a cheaper (and smaller) iPhone SE back in April, which played a big part in its Q2 surge.

The big takeaways from this latest Canalys report is that Samsung’s smartphone brand remains strong, while Xiaomi appears to be capitalizing on Huawei’s U.S. trade tussles. The next quarter will be particularly interesting to watch, as Apple’s latest flagships will have had several months to embed themselves, and Huawei will continue to try and convince the world that consumers don’t need Google.

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