China has shipped a record 117.3 million smartphones in the fourth quarter of 2015, with sales fuelled in part by the country's annual online Singles Day shopping festival in November.
The quarter's shipment was up 8 percent from fourth-quarter 2014, according to the latest figures from research firm IDC, pushing last year's overall smartphone shipment growth to 3 percent over 2014. It added that the country's market growth also was driven by strong sales from local smartphone manufacturer, Huawei.
Apart from its strong shipment growth, the quarter saw a change of vendors that led the top three spots in the China market.
Tay Xiaohan, IDC's Asia-Pacific senior market analyst for client devices, noted: "Xiaomi, Huawei, and Apple are the top smartphone players in 2015. This is a stark contrast to the top players in 2013, which was Samsung, Lenovo, and Coolpad--with Samsung clearly dominating other players.
"With operators reducing smartphone subsidy and given the volatility of consumers' brand preference in the market, the smartphone scene has changed significantly since then," Tay said.
She explained that Xiaomi's foray came at a time when China's smartphone market was still growing, enabling the local device maker to capture significant market share with its sales model. The IDC analyst added that Huawei had "strong products", invested in R&D, and built its branding and channel connections, allowing the Chinese manufacturer to see significant growth in 2015.
Pointing to Apple, she said the iPhone maker remained a "strong and desirable brand" among Chinese consumers.
"With the Chinese market now slowing down, it is unlikely that we will see any new players making a big impact on the smartphone market, compared to the way Xiaomi did in the previous years," Tay added.
According to IDC, Huawei saw the biggest gains in average selling prices (ASPs) and shipment growth, with more flagship products and higher shipments in the US$200 to US$500 price range. This had affected Samsung's shipments in the mid-range and high-end device segments.
The research firm said Huawei's strong local footprint would continue to push up its ASPs and impact Samsung's shipment numbers in the China market.
And while Xiaomi was the country's leading smartphone vendor last year, its ASP was the lowest among the top five vendors and growth came mostly from its low-end Redmi devices.
IDC said online flash sales for phones would likely die down this year, with online sales no longer clocking the high growth seen in 2015 over the coming years. It added that smartphone vendors would focus on expanding their offline channels this year.
With consumers looking for better user experience in their next device, the research firm said vendors would have to move upstream to address the needs of these users. And as market growth was expected to be flat in 2016, with the maturing of China's market, this might lead to consolidation among smaller smartphone vendors, IDC noted.