Smartphone market continues recovery but isn't out of the woods just yet

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Another set of analyst sales figures suggest the global smartphone market is showing signs of recovery after a difficult 2020 due to coronavirus.

Gartner says 366 million units were sold during the third quarter of 2020, a drop of 5.7% year on year. However, this is far better than the previous two quarters, which coincided with the peak of the pandemic and during which the market contracted by more than a fifth.

There is renewed hope that the fourth quarter could see further improvement thanks to easing lockdown restrictions and delayed purchases. However, there is also a warning that ongoing uncertainty and economic pressures, coupled with the delayed rollout of 5G networks, could yet scupper improvement.

Worldwide smartphone sales

“Consumers are limiting their discretionary spend even as some lockdown conditions have started to improve,” said Anshul Gupta, senior research director at Gartner. “Global smartphone sales experienced moderate growth from the second quarter of 2020 to the third quarter. This was due to pent-up demand from previous quarters.”

Samsung remains the world’s biggest manufacturer in the world and actually increased shipments by 2.2% to 80.8 million. It benefited from its ongoing popularity among Android consumers and commands 22% of the market.

Huawei remains in second but its well-documented issues saw shipments drop by a fifth to 51.8 million. Chinese rival Xiaomi was one of the main beneficiaries of Huawei’s struggles and was the only other member of the top five to increase sales. Shipments rose by a third to 44.4 million as it edged Apple into fourth spot for the first time with 12.1% of the market.

Apple’s sales were relatively static at 40.6 million but it will hope to increase that significantly during Q4 due to the relatively late launch of if its first ever 5G handset, the iPhone 12, last month. The Christmas period is a traditionally strong period for the company and it will hope to capitalise on pent-up demand as well as long-term interest in 5G.

“Apple sold 40.5 million units in the third quarter of 2020, a decline of 0.6% as compared to 2019,” said Annette Zimmermann, research vice president at Gartner. “The slight decrease was mainly due to Apple’s delayed shipment start of its new 2020 iPhone generation, which in previous years would always start mid/end September. This year, the launch event and shipment start began 4 weeks later than usual.” 

Steve McCaskill is TechRadar Pro's resident mobile industry expert, covering all aspects of the UK and global news, from operators to service providers and everything in between. He is a former editor of Silicon UK and journalist with over a decade's experience in the technology industry, writing about technology, in particular, telecoms, mobile and sports tech, sports, video games and media.