2018 the 'worst year ever for smartphone shipments' globally: IDC

By Digit NewsDesk | Published on 03 Feb 2019
2018 the 'worst year ever for smartphone shipments' globally: IDC

IDC says that the 4.9 percent year-over-year smartphone shipment decline in the Holiday Quarter (fourth quarter of the year 2018) capped off the ‘worst year ever’.


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  • IDC dubs 2018 as worst year for smartphone shipments globally.
  • Chinese players saw positive growth despite decline.
  • Samsung led the overall market, followed by Apple and Huawei.


The year 2018 was the worst year ever for smartphone shipments globally as smartphone vendors shipped a total of 1.4 billion units in the full year, which is down 4.9 percent year-over-year (YoY), International Data Corporation (IDC) said in its Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker. The market research firm also said that in the fourth quarter of 2018, 375.4 million units were shipped, which is down 4.9 percent year-over-year (YoY).

The holiday quarter closed out the worst year ever for smartphone shipments, and with challenging market conditions continuing into the first quarter of 2019, the likelihood of a declining market this year becomes more of a reality, the market research firm claimed. Ryan Reith, Program Vice President with IDC's Worldwide Mobile Device Trackers, says that “globally the smartphone market is a mess right now.”

“Outside of a handful of high-growth markets like India, Indonesia, Korea, and Vietnam, we did not see a lot of positive activity in 2018. We believe several factors are at play here, including lengthening replacement cycles, increasing penetration levels in many large markets, political and economic uncertainty, and growing consumer frustration around continuously rising price points,” Reith said in a statement.

IDC says that China, which accounts for roughly 30 percent of the world's smartphone consumption, had an even worse 2018 than the previous year with volumes down just over 10 percent. Surprisingly, at the same time the top four brands - all of which are Chinese (Huawei, Oppo, Vivo, and Xiaomi) grew their share of the China market to roughly 78 percent, up from 66 percent in 2017.

On a global level, the top five smartphone companies continue to get stronger and now account for 69 percent of smartphone volume - up from 63 percent a year ago. The market research firm says that if we include Vivo, which is currently number six in this list and has been in and out of the top 5 in recent quarters, the share of the top companies is 75 percent and growing. Anthony Scarsella, Research Manager with IDC, says that with replacement rates continuing to slow across numerous markets, vendors will need to find a new equilibrium that balances the latest smartphone features, compelling design, and affordability.

“The arrival of both 5G and foldable devices later this year could bring new life to the industry depending on how vendors and carriers market the real-life benefits of these technologies. However, we expect these new devices to elevate average selling prices as new displays, chipsets, and radios will bring an increased price to the BOM (bill of materials), which will translate to higher price points for consumers. To combat this, carriers and retailers will need to fully maximize trade-in offers for older devices as a type of subsidy to push upgrades throughout 2019,” Scarsella added.

Company-wise segregation of market share

With a total smartphone shipment of 70.4 million units, Samsung saw volumes decline by 5.5 percent in the fourth quarter of 2018. Although the South Korean company maintained its top position for the quarter, its share fell below 20 percent to 18.7 percent. In the full year, the volumes were down 8 percent to 292.3 million. Samsung was  just a few points above Apple and Huawei.

Apple saw iPhone volumes drop 11.5 percent in the holiday quarter and the total iPhone volumes were down 3.2 percent for the full year as both the US and China “experienced the worst year for smartphone performance ever.” Huawei’s 4Q18 volumes were up 43.9 percent YoY and the volume in the whole year were up 33.6 percent. Huawei saw growing success from its Honor line of devices, which are now representing close to half of its overall volume.

Oppo finished the quarter in the fourth position with full-year shipments of 113.1 million, up 1.3 percent from 2017. Xiaomi rounded out the top 5 in the fourth quarter of 2018 with full-year shipments up 32.2 percent YoY and volumes surpassing the 100 million. Like Oppo, India and Indonesia continue to be the focus markets outside of China. Xiaomi’s Redmi series devices continue to lead in emerging markets, IDC said.

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