Smartphone sales plummet as Samsung and Huawei 'tie' for top spot

Huawei P40
(Image credit: TechRadar)

Worldwide smartphone sales fell by a fifth during the second quarter of 2020 as consumers shied away from purchasing new handsets during coronavirus-enforced lockdowns.

The latest figures from analyst house Gartner suggest 295 million units were shifted during the period, which coincided with the strictest restrictions on people’s movement and activity, as well as the associated economic challenges that may have reduced demand.

“Travel restrictions, retail closures and more prudent spending on nonessential products during the pandemic led to the second consecutive quarterly decline in smartphone sales this year,” said Anshul Gupta, Senior Research Director at Gartner.

Worldwide smartphone sales

While other analyst reports have noted that the recovery in China has allowed Huawei to overtake Samsung and become the world’s largest smartphone manufacturer, Gartner puts the two companies as effective equals.

Samsung sales fell by 27.1% to 54.8 million but Huawei’s 6.8% decline still resulted in 54.1 million units being shifted. The Korean company's market share of 18.6% is now only fractionally ahead of its Chinese rivals 18.4%.

Analysts attribute Huawei’s relative success to the improving situation in China where lockdown measures have comparatively eased.

“Huawei’s performance in China helped it avoid a worse quarterly performance,” added Gupta. “Huawei extended its lead in China where it captured 42.6% of China’s smartphone market in the second quarter of 2020. Huawei put in place an aggressive product introduction and sales promotion in China in particular and benefited from the strong support of communications services providers for its 5G smartphones.”

It remains to be seen what impact US sanctions that limit Huawei's ability to source chips for its devices will have on the company's long-term prospects, however.

Demand for the iPhone 11 and the cheaper iPhone SE saw Apple fare much better than its competitors. Sales were almost flat, falling just 0.4 per cent to 38.4 million  - enough to increase its market share 13 per cent market. Meanwhile Chinese vendors Xiaomi and Oppo both saw double digit declines to take fourth and fifth place in the rankings.

A separate study from Deloitte found that UK adults bought 21 million new digital devices during lockdown in order to stay connected and entertained. However smartphones represented just a fraction of these purchases, with games consoles, smart TVs and smart speakers also popular.

It is hoped that delayed purchases and demand for 5G handsets will allow the smartphone market to recover in 2021.

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.