A Gartner survey of the global smartphone market says that sales rose 7% in the fourth quarter of 2016, with Apple taking over the number one spot from Samsung.
Global sales of smartphones to end users totalled 432 million units in the fourth quarter of 2016, a 7% increase year-on-year. In 2016 overall, smartphone sales to end users totalled nearly 1.5 billion units, an increase of 5 percent from 2015.
Unsurprisingly, the Galaxy Note7 debacle impacted Samsung’s sales, and after eight hard-fought quarters, Apple took over the top spot with 77m sales, taking 17.9% of the market. But Samsung was not far behind, with 76m sales representing 17.8% of the market.
‘This is the second consecutive quarter in which Samsung has delivered falling quarterly smartphone sales,’ said Anshul Gupta, research director at Gartner. ‘Samsung's smartphone sales declined 8 percent in the fourth quarter of 2016 and its share dropped by 2.9 percentage points year on year.
‘Samsung's smartphone sales started to drop in the third quarter of 2016, and the decision to discontinue the Galaxy Note 7 slowed down sales of its smartphone portfolio in the fourth quarter,’ added Gupta. ‘The withdrawal of the Galaxy Note 7 left a gap in its large-screen phone range.’ Samsung also faced growing competition in the mid-tier and entry-level smartphone segments from Huawei, Oppo, BBK and Gionee, which all grew their sales each quarter.
It has taken eight quarters for Apple to regain the No. 1 global smartphone vendor ranking, but the positions of the two leaders have never been so close, with only 256,000 units difference. ‘The last time Apple was in the leading position was in the fourth quarter of 2014, when its sales were driven by its first ever large-screen iPhone 6 and 6 Plus,’ said Gupta. ‘This time it achieved it thanks to strong sales of its flagship phones - the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus; it also benefited from the weakened demand for Samsung's smartphones in mature markets such as North America and Western Europe, and in some mature markets in Asia such as Australia and South Korea.’
Huawei, Oppo and BBK accounted for 21.3 percent of smartphones sold to end users worldwide during the fourth quarter of 2016, an increase of 7.3% year on year. ‘Huawei introduced Mate 9 during the quarter - within a month of Samsung discontinuing the Galaxy Note 7 - which was good timing to position it as an alternative,’ said Gupta.
Huawei's premium smartphone offering has helped it to reduce the gap with Samsung during the fourth quarter of 2016, with a difference of 36 million units. In the same period last year, the gap between the two vendors was more than 50 million units. ‘Huawei is poised to reduce the gap further with the No. 2 global smartphone vendor,’ said Gupta. ‘Mate 9 with Alexa will start shipping into the U.S. in the first quarter of 2017.’
Oppo maintained the No. 1 positon in China during the fourth quarter of 2016, and the number four smartphone vendor worldwide. BBK continued to hold the number two position in China, marginally ahead of Huawei.
The Gartner report showed that Chinese brands such as Oppo, BBK, Huawei, ZTE, Xiaomi and Lenovo are aggressively expanding into markets outside China, and can be expected to disrupt the top smartphone players in 2017. ‘Samsung needs to successfully launch the next Galaxy flagship phone in order to continue the momentum Galaxy S7 generated, and win back lost customers by launching a new large screen and stylus-equipped smartphone,’ said Gupta.
The Android OS extended its lead by capturing 82 percent of the total market in the fourth quarter of 2016. ‘The entry of Google's Pixel phone has made the premium Android smartphone offering more competitive, while the re-entry of HMD (Nokia) in the basic (mid-tier) smartphone category, is set to further increase the competition in emerging markets,’ the report concluded.