Smartphone shipments suffer worst annual Q1 decline, IDC says

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Global smartphone shipments in the first three months of the year suffered its largest annual decline ever, as the disruption and uncertainties posed by the coronavirus pandemic hit demand.

Smartphone makers shipped 275.8 million devices from January to March, an 11.7% drop from a year earlier and the largest annual decline ever, according to research firm International Data Corporation (IDC). 

China saw a decline of 20.3% on-year, and that had a huge impact on the overall market because the country accounts for almost a quarter of worldwide shipments, IDC said. Most of China was shut in February for an extended period as part of the country’s efforts to contain the outbreak.

Global dependency on China for its smartphone components and assembly lines also caused major issues as the quarter progressed and shipments in the U.S. and Western Europe dropped 16.1% and 18.3%, respectively, IDC said. 

“What started as primarily a supply-side problem initially limited to China has grown into a global economic crisis with the demand-side impact starting to show by the end of the quarter,” said Nabila Popal, research director with IDC’s Worldwide Mobile Device Trackers. 

Cautious outlook for China

Research firm Canalys said its latest data showed shipments in China fell 18% on-year to about 73 million devices, but major smartphone makers were “resilient.”

Market leader Huawei saw its shipments grow annually by 1% for the quarter but the likes of Oppo, Vivo, Xiaomi and Apple saw declines in one of the world’s largest smartphone markets, the firm said. 

“The smartphone’s status as an ‘essential’ personal item has stopped the market falling further during the pandemic,” Nicole Peng, vice president of mobility at Canalys, said in a statement.

Consumers, under these uncertain times, are likely to withhold making many significant discretionary purchases. This means the replacement cycles are likely to become longer.

Tarun Pathak

Associate Director, Counterpoint Research

The first-quarter performance was “buoyed by China’s well-established ecommerce channel for smartphone distribution, and the fact that most Chinese businesses were able to resume work rapidly after two weeks of nationwide travel restrictions,” Canalys said.

Still, Peng said Canalys remains cautious about the speed of recovery in China’s smartphone market this year. She explained that rising unemployment in the manufacturing, retail, travel, and tourism sectors, as well as a sharp decline in company revenue and profits, cast doubts over domestic consumer confidence and spending power. That could potentially push prices down. 

The firm predicted a best-case-scenario of 326 million shipments for 2020 in China, including 137 million 5G smartphones. 5G is the fifth generation of high-speed mobile internet that aims to provide faster data speeds and more bandwidth to carry growing levels of web traffic.

Prices may drop

Counterpoint Research said its analysis found global smartphone shipments fell around 13% from a year ago in the first three months of 2020. It was the first time since early 2014 that companies shipped fewer than 300 million devices in a quarter, its researchers found.

“From the consumer standpoint, unless replacing a broken phone, smartphones are mostly a discretionary purchase,” Tarun Pathak, associate director at Counterpoint Research, said in a statement. 

“Consumers, under these uncertain times, are likely to withhold making many significant discretionary purchases. This means the replacement cycles are likely to become longer,” he said, implying users may not buy new devices as quickly.

Pathak explained that as countries emerge from lockdown, consumers would likely prefer to purchase new phones online and some may opt for cheaper models. That could lead to an overall decline in smartphone prices.

Some top-end smartphones from the likes of Apple and Samsung cost $1,000 or more. 

Both IDC and Counterpoint Research data said Samsung remained the market leader at the end of the three months, followed by Huawei and Apple. 

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