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Smartphone shipments jumped 26% in Q1 – only to recapture ground lost to the pandemic

Don't call it growth

Global smartphone shipments recovered in the first quarter of this year following a dismal 2020 for the mobile hardware industry.

Shipments grew by 26 per cent to nearly 388 million, according to analyst Gartner, compared to just 300 million during the first quarter of 2020.

But look closer at the numbers, and a slightly different picture starts to emerge. Speaking to The Register, Gartner analyst Anshul Gupta warned against considering this bump as "growth" but rather a recovery from an unprecedented year for the mobile industry, bolstered by the gradual introduction of 5G services.

"Some of this growth was related to the reopening of economies and people having more disposable income to spend on non-essential goods. There was a huge pent-up demand," he explained.

"Some of the markets we follow – the UK, France, Germany – are looking really strong [compared] to what we've seen. We should be seeing some positive growth in these markets this year. And some of that growth can be attributed to the rollout of 5G networks," he added.

This recovery was not evenly distributed. The top-five vendors – Samsung, Apple, Xiaomi, Vivo, and OPPO – all recorded growth in terms of absolute shipment units, as well as their share of the market. But the "Others" category, which includes smaller vendors (and, for the first time in years, Huawei), contracted by almost a third, with its market share plummeting from 42.6 per cent to 30.9 per cent.

One factor driving this trend was the continuing difficulties in the supply chain, particularly when it comes to semiconductor components. Whereas the likes of Apple can easily secure production time at TSMC's foundries, smaller vendors lacking the same purchasing power were forced to wait in line.

"When it comes to large players, they have the capacities to really secure these [semiconductor] shipments. When it comes to smaller companies, they really struggle," Gupta explained.

"Because of that, the larger players can make their supply appear more stable and ensure device launches happen on time, while keeping inventory available in the market. Smaller players haven't been able to do that, and they suffer from a lack of access to telecoms companies. Given that, the market has really shifted towards four or five players, and they are taking up a larger share of the market."

But that doesn't necessarily mean that larger firms aren't feeling the pinch, albeit to a lesser degree. "Everyone is talking about having a very tight supply, and the situation continues to be really challenging," he said.

Another point that may play a factor in the shrinking of the "Others" category in these markets is a fallback in numbers for both Huawei and LG; the latter announced it would withdraw from the smartphone market earlier this year.

"LG had almost 70 to 80 per cent of its market share coming from Latin America and the North American market," Gupta said.

Samsung clinched the top spot for Q1 2021, delivering 76.7 million shipments and capturing a 20.3 per cent market share. Running up, Apple accounted for 58.5 million of the total shipments, with a 15.5 per cent market share.

Occupying the third-place spot once held by Huawei was Xiaomi, with 48.9 million units and a 12.9 per cent market share. Vivo and OPPO came fourth and fifth respectively, both taking a 10.2 per cent market share with shipments of 38.7 million and 38.3 million units apiece. ®

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