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Samsung was the biggest smartphone manufacturer in 2019

On the surface of it, the new data from Strategy Analytics for 2019 smartphone sales doesn’t show too much change from recent years. Samsung is still topping the charts, with Huawei snapping at the heels. But dig a little deeper, and some interesting changes are happening – especially in China.

In all, Samsung shipped 295 million handsets in 2019, representing some 20.9% of the market, and a 0.6% rise on 2018. That’s made all the sweeter for the firm by the fact that the data shows Apple falling back from 206.3 million to 197.4 million – a dip of 0.4% of market share overall.   

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Which isn’t to say Apple had nothing to celebrate. In Q4 – always an important month for the company, as it’s when new iPhones tend to get their annual release – the company pushed out in front with 70.7 million shipments – just out of reach of Samsung’s 68.8 million.

But the rest of the top five is made up of Chinese companies: Huawei still in second, Xiaomi in fourth and Oppo in fifth. That’s been the order for some time, but 2019 showed some signs that it may gradually be shifting.

Xiaomi – which according to Strategy Analytics director Woody Oh had a “great quarter in Western Europe” – advanced from 8.3% of the market in 2018 to 8.8% in 2019 where it shifted 124.8 million units.

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And while it’s impressive that Huawei hung on to second spot despite its difficult year in the west, there could be warning signs ahead. While it sold 35 million more smartphones in 2019 than it managed in 2018, there were troubling signs in the fourth quarter: a dip of some four million sales in the holiday season may indicate problems down the road, given the US trade war with China didn’t kick off until May.

Finally, in fifth place there’s Oppo, which pretty much managed to stand still with 8.1% of the market in both 2018 and 2019. That amounts to some 115 million smartphone sales, but considering “others” – includes the likes of Sony, LG, OnePlus, Motorola and Google – only hit 439.7 million combined, the Chinese firm will be happy enough with that, you’d imagine. 

Indeed, the final take home from these figures is just how squeezed that “others” category is becoming. It dipped from 34.4% of the market in 2018 to 31.1% in 2019, which must leave some wondering whether the R&D time is worth the returns.

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