Worldwide smartphone growth stalls in the first quarter

Meanwhile, Chinese brands OPPO and vivo emerge as strong players, pushing Lenovo and Xiaomi off the list of top five vendors

Vendors shipped 334.9 million smartphones worldwide in the first quarter of 2016, just barely surpassing the number of units shipped a year earlier (334.3 million in 1Q15), according to the International Data Corporation (IDC).

Stalled growth is of no surprise in the shifting smartphone market, though these numbers mark the smallest year-over-year growth on record. Though both Samsung and Apple saw year-over-year declines in shipments, they remain the No. 1 and 2 vendors, respectively. Huawei comes in third thanks to its dominance in China and its push to grow internationally. The company shipped 27.5 million units this quarter, giving it year-over-year growth of 58.4 percent.

Meanwhile, Chinese brands OPPO and vivo emerged as strong players, pushing Lenovo and Xiaomi off the list of top five vendors. If these companies want to keep growing, they'll have to cater to the increasingly sophisticated marketplace -- in China and elsewhere. Year-over-year shipment growth in China dropped to 2.5 percent by 2015 (compared to 62.5 percent in 2013), while the average selling price rose in China from $207 in 2013 to $257 in 2015.

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"Outside of China, many of these brands are virtually unknown and the ability of these rapidly growing Chinese vendors to gain entry into mature markets such as the United States and Western Europe will be essential if they have aspirations of catching Apple or Samsung at the top," Anthony Scarsella, research manager with IDC's Mobile Phone team, said in a statement.

Huawei is already considered a premium brand in China and is now stepping up its game with the recent launch of the P9 smartphone. OPPO began shipping smartphones in 2011 and has shipped internationally since 2012. In 2015, nearly 20 percent of its shipments went to outside of China. Vivo has also shipped smartphones since 2011 but is more focused on the domestic market, with just 10 percent of shipments last year going outside of China.

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