World is finally buying more phones and prices are rising

Someone forgot to tell Apple and Samsung as Chinese brands rebound

The world is collectively buying more factory-fresh smartphones again, with Chinese homegrown brands propelling shipments. Meanwhile, Apple reported a near double-digit slump, and Samsung also saw declines, albeit at a slower rate.

Preliminary sales data for calendar Q1 was published by IDC today, showing that total shipments of phones into the channel grew 7.8 percent year-on-year to 289.4 million – this is the third consecutive quarter of expansion.

The industry is "not completely out of the woods," said the analyst, as many households continue to weigh up budgets amid a strained economy in many parts of the globe, although the upward direction of travel is clear.

Samsung leaped to the top of the market again, according to IDC, after its shipments declined more slowly than Apple. Samsung was down 0.7 percent in Q1 to 60.1 million, and Apple plunged 9.6 percent to 50.1 million iPhones.

In the final quarter of 2023, Apple had seized the top spot. The company is wrestling with greater competition in China and efforts by the government to steer local businesses toward homegrown brands.

Ryan Reith, IDC group veep for the Worldwide Mobility and Consumer Device Trackers, said: "While IDC expects these two companies to maintain their hold on the high end of the market, the resurgence of Huawei in China, as well as notable gains from Xiaomi, Transsion … and vivo will likely have both OEMs looking for areas to expand and diversify."

Xiaomi's shipment growth was recorded by IDC as 33.8 percent to 40.8 million units, and Transsion was up 84.9 percent to 28.5 million phones. OPPO was the only top five Chinese vendor to see a decline, falling 8.5 percent to 25.2 million.

Huawei still hasn't managed to barge its way back into the top five, although its Mate P60 has lit up the Chinese market, despite the best efforts of the US government to erect trade barriers for chip exports to the country. Google also pulled Huawei's access to the Android operating system.

The sanctions continue to restrict Huawei's business operations in the West. However, they have generated a wave of nationalism in China that is spurring consumers and businesses to opt for local brands. This loss of traction is meaningful for Apple because China – the largest smartphone consumer in the world – has had something of a love affair with the luxury goods maker.

Apple CEO Tim Cook took a high-profile trip to China last month to open a massive new Apple Store in Shanghai, the second largest on the planet.

One dynamic that holds well for Apple revenues is that, according to IDC's data, average sales prices were on the up in Q1 "as consumers opt for more expensive devices knowing they will hold onto their devices for longer."

Users are now keeping their smartphones for 40-plus months, and this is a trend that is hurting the secondhand market as fewer phones find their way into the refurbished sector, according to previous research. Trade-ins continue but this is a fraction of the total used inventory available.

So for those who can afford to do so, buying premium phone hardware seems to be the way to go. ®

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