Smartphone market returns to growth in Q1 2018

iPhone X

Following the first ever drop in worldwide sales, Gartner’s latest figures show the smartphone market returned to growth during the first quarter of 2018.

Smartphone shipments rose 1.3 per cent year-on-year to 383 million, representing 84 per cent of the total 455 million mobile phones sold during the three-month period.

Analysts noted that lower rates of handset upgrade impacted the high-end of the market, although better quality cheaper handsets led to some growth in the mid-range segment.

High-end growth

"Demand for premium and high-end smartphones continued to suffer due to marginal incremental benefits during upgrade," explained Anshul Gupta, research director at Gartner. "Demand for entry-level smartphones (sub-$100) and low mid-tier smartphones (sub-$150) improved due to better-quality models."

Despite lower sales, Samsung is still the world’s largest smartphone manufacturer with 78.6 million shipments and a 20.5 per cent share of the market, while Apple increased its share to 14.1 per cent thanks to sales of 55 million. However Gartner predicts there could be issues ahead if market trends persist.

"Even though demand for Apple's iPhone X exceeded that of iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus, the vendor struggled to drive significant smartphone replacements, which led to slower-than-expected growth in the first quarter of 2018," added Gupta. "With its exclusive focus on premium smartphones, Apple needs to significantly raise the overall experience of its next-generation iPhones to trigger replacements and lead to solid growth in the near future."

Chinese success

While other Chinese manufacturers floundered due to market saturation in China, Huawei and Xiaomi’s international success ensured they were unaffected. Huawei cemented its position at number three with 40 million devices and a 10.5 per cent share thanks to the success of the Huawei P20, while Xiaomi saw growth of 124 per cent to 28.5 million shipments and 7.4 per cent of the market.

Xiaomi smartphones are set to be released in the UK for the first time thanks to a distribution agreement with Three’s parent CK Hutchison across Europe, a deal which could boost its growth even further. As for Huawei, it is much further along in its expansion.

"[Huawei’s] future growth increasingly depends on the vendor ramping up share in Emerging Asia/Pacific and resolving issues in the U.S. market, through the development of a stronger consumer brand,” continued Gupta.

“Huawei's attempt to grow its premium smartphone portfolio with its recent launches of the P20, P20 Pro and Honor 10 helps raise its competitiveness and growth potential.”

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.