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Perhaps meeting with Pope Francis did help iPhone sales

Apple only vendor to report shipment rise in tricky Q1 for smartphone industry

The visit from the Pope might have paid off for Tim Cook as Apple is the only top five smartphone brand that retailers are calling up to order more stock.

The scores for calendar Q1 are on the doors and, globally, shipments of smartphones into the channel fell 13 percent year-on-year to 269.8 million units, according to numbers collated by market researcher Canalys. The only bright spot came from the iPhone.

This is the fifth straight quarter that unit sales declined across the industry but the analyst reckons the demand decline started to flatten as the quarter progressed. "Samsung's performance shows early signs of recovery after a tough end to 2022," said analyst Runar Bjørhovde.

Samsung's shipments still shrank 18 percent to 60.3 million handsets, falling considerably faster than the market average and ceding sales share to Apple. The Korean megacorp refreshed its A-series last month, and revealed the S22 a month earlier, which El Reg cast a claw over.

"The rebound is particularly connected to product launches, which drove an increase in sell-in volume," said Bjørhovde. "Still, Samsung will have to navigate through a difficult landscape going forward, particularly as entry-level device inventory remains high. Declining profits from its semiconductor memory business will also trigger a more conservative marketing spend overall."

Apple grew 3 percent on sales of 58 million iPhones, which, while trumping all major rivals, was still considerably lower than the 24 percent expansion recorded in the seasonally busier Q4 holiday period. It picked up share on the back a "robust" outing, particularly in Asia Pacific.

The Reg thinks Apple may have benefited from the intervention of a higher power after Pope Francis was granted a special audience with Apple CEO Tim Cook in October.

"Apple's sustained investments into offline channels enabled it to attract a burgeoning middle-class, which places high value on the in-store purchasing experience," said Bjørhovde.

Canalys said the mid-range tier of the smartphone industry is starting to recover and vendors are using trade-down opportunities for consumers that have less spending power. In Q4, shipments sank to their lowest level in a decade so vendors are trying to tackle the slump in the best way they can.

Businesses are sweating their device assets for longer and the second-hand market is expanding rapidly. In 2022, sales of used and refurbished phones reached 282 million worldwide, up 11.5 percent from the prior year.

Rounding out the top five vendors in Q1 was Xiaomi, whose shipments plunged 22 percent to 30.5 million, OPPO, which was down 8 percent to 26.6 million, and vivo with 20.9 million unit sales, down 17 percent.

The market isn't going to improve rapidly this year, according to Canalys, as people have more pressing priorities than buying a smartphone. Declining growth rates may improve as inventory levels reduce, it said. ®

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