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The iPhone 12 captured our attention and wallets, says new report from Gartner

Latest and greatest put Samsung in second, while Huawei risks irrelevancy

The launch of the iPhone 12 massively distorted the smartphone market in Q4 2020 with the new 5G-capable mobes sucking oxygen from rival Samsung.

Gartner stats show sales of iPhones to end users grew 15 per cent in Q4 2020 compared to the previous year, with Apple shifting nearly 80 million units. Apple's quarterly market share jumped to 20.8 per cent compared to 17.1 per cent, allowing it to clinch the top position in the leaderboards. That's good going in a shrinking market.

Samsung, which has been a perennial figure at the top of the table, plummeted to second place, with Gartner recording an 11.8 per cent drop in end user sales to circa 62 million. And while this could be attributed to the imminent January release of the Samsung Galaxy S21 series, Gartner veep analyst Annette Zimmerman argued the launch of the iPhone 12 had a more significant effect.

"When you look at regional trends, the biggest [drop] was in North America. That clearly shows the iPhone had a huge impact on their performance," she argued.

It's not clear how Q1 2021 will play out. Samsung's Galaxy S21 series launched in early January, and in the less premium side of the market, the firm has launched a flood of budget blowers, most recently the Galaxy A12, which targets the developing market. Both of those factors will help shift Samsung's sales units figures northwards.

But don't count Apple out just yet. The long upgrade cycle in the high-end segment of the market (Gartner puts it at between 2.5 and 2.8 years for "premium" devices) will maintain Apple's momentum in the months to come. Meanwhile, the Chinese New Year in Q2 2021 will give another shot in the arm to Apple’s sales figures, said Zimmerman.

Gartner didn't have any figures on how individual models sold, but Zimmerman noted solid figures for the diminutive iPhone 12 Mini in Europe, which has otherwise struck a dull note with customers. Other analysts have said the tiny phone was failing to find an audience. Meanwhile, mentions of the the handset were conspicuously absent from Apple's January earnings call. We've also heard rumblings Apple may cull production later this year.

Chinese punters, she noted, tend to favour the larger Pro and Pro Max, whereas all models sold proportionally well in the US.

As expected, OPPO and Xiaomi performed well in Q4, clenching the third and fourth positions respectively. And while both occupy the same segment of the mobile market (plucky mid-rangers), they vary when it comes to international success. Half of OPPO's shipments in Q4 2020 were for the Chinese market, with just 5 per cent headed to Western Europe.

In comparison, Xiaomi has proven much more adept in finding success beyond the great firewall, with shipments to emerging APAC markets eclipsing those for Mainland China (43 per cent compared to 29 per cent), with 13 per cent for customers in Western Europe.

At the risk of ending on a bum note, let's talk about Huawei, which saw its sales figures drop by 41.1 per cent to 34.3 million. This is neither a surprise nor a mystery. America's sanctions have really done a number on the once-ascendant phone company, forcing it to slash production in the face of supply chain issues, as well as evaporating demand from international customers.

Despite that, Zimmerman heaped praise on Huawei's ability to adapt, with the Huawei App Gallery and Petal app search cited as examples. "I've been testing the Mate 40 Pro for a while, and actually it's much better in terms of apps," she said.

"I mean, I'm missing a lot, but you have the basics: WhatsApp, Facebook, Signal, Instagram, Twitter, Netflix, Amazon. The basic things are definitely there. It's just the long tail is missing, like your local banking or shopping apps."

Overall, the smartphone market slumped by 5.4 per cent in Q4, with sales slipping to 384.6 million. And while this isn't great, it's nowhere near as bad as the plunges recorded in the first half of the year, when consumer sentiment was at its lowest ebb. The global market is expected to return to growth this year. ®

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