Smartphone sales decline for first time as Huawei gains on Apple

Global smartphone sales Samsung smartphones Gartner report MWC 2018 Apple iPhones feature phones Huawei Apple iPhone X Xiaomi flagship devices

Global sales of smartphones to end users totaled almost 408 million units in the fourth quarter of 2017, a 5.6 percent decline over the fourth quarter of 2016, according to Gartner, Inc.

Sales fell because consumers held on to their handsets longer, and also turned to feature phones, Gartner said in a report released on Thursday.

Global smartphone sales have declined for the first time since 2004, according to research from Gartner.

Anshul Gupta, Research Director at Gartner, said: "Two main factors led to the fall in the fourth quarter of 2017".

"While demand for high quality, 4G connectivity and better camera features remained strong, high expectations and few incremental benefits during replacement weakened smartphone sales", Gupta said.

Samsung leap-frogged Apple by virtue of its sales declining slower than the market average - Sammy's numbers were 3.6 per cent to 74.02 million units.

This low demand has caused Apple to reportedly reduce its iPhone X production by half, leaving Samsung with a surplus of OLED panels which the South Korean company is now unable to sell.

According to Telsyte, Android devices made up 55 per cent of all units sold during the past year largely because 2017 was a replacement year for Android users.

In Gartner's Q4 sales stats, Samsung maintained a narrow lead in global volume shipments of smartphones - but every major (top five) vendor outside of those based in China saw unit shipments slip.

There has also been criticism that Apple's much vaunted iPhone X failed to include enough new tech to encourage people to upgrade. First, the later availability of the iPhone X led to slow upgrades to iPhone 8 and 8 Plus, as users waited to try the more expensive model.

Apple recorded the largest year-on-year drop in unit sales between Q4 2016 and Q4 2017, a decline of 5% or nearly 400,000 units, although this compares with a relatively modest decline of 0.5% for the year as a whole.

Huawei has launched a selection of new smartphones over the past year in different pricing brackets and Xiaomi is becoming an increasingly competitive force in the market due to a focus on affordable low and mid-range handsets. Interestingly, Huawei and Xiaomi have both sold more smartphones in the December quarter compared to a year ago.

Analysts recorded the first decline in year-on-year global smartphone sales for Q4 2017, while emerging players saw their unit sales rise. Huawei and Xiaomi are the only two brands that were able to achieve year-on-year growth for the 4th quarter.

The report said Xiaomi's biggest market outside China is India.

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