Huawei smartphone shipments have for the first time overtaken Samsung's, making the Chinese tech company the largest smartphone vendor in the world.
According to analyst Canalys, Huawei's milestone wouldn't have happened right now were it not for the COVID-19 pandemic and the speed of China's economic recovery, which has been faster than the rest of the world's.
At the same time, Huawei has steadily closed the gap between its shipments and Samsung's over the past decade. And it's managed to eclipse its South Korean rival in the face of US sanctions preventing it from shipping new Honor and Mate phones with key Google apps, such as Gmail and YouTube.
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Huawei might not hold the lead over Samsung for long, but it's an important symbolic milestone for the Chinese company: last April, Huawei's mobile head, Richard Yu, reiterated a goal initially laid out in late 2018 that Huawei would be the world's biggest smartphone vendor by 2020.
But the world was also very different one year ago. It was in the middle of the ongoing US-China trade war, when the Trump Administration was pushing Western nations to ban Huawei from 5G network rollouts, but hadn't yet put Huawei on the Department of Commerce's Entity List, which banned Google from supplying core apps to Huawei.
While industry watchers at the time doubted that Huawei would overtake Samsung, the Chinese company has since doubled down on sales within China, where the economy and industry have rebounded from COVID-19 shutdowns faster than Samsung's main markets in the US, Europe, South America and India.
However, as Canalys notes, Huawei has taken the lead away from Samsung in a quarter where both vendors' shipments shrank – but that Samsung's shipments fell by more due to the pandemic.
Huawei shipped 55 million smartphones in Q2 2020, down 5% year on year, while Samsung shipped 53.7 million units, down 30% compared with Q2 2019.
Huawei's non-China shipments have also taken a battering, declining 27% in Q2, but its shipments within China grew 8%. China represents over 70% of Huawei's smartphone shipments, whereas Samsung's only has a 1% market share in China, and is far more exposed to markets that are still being damaged by the pandemic, including Brazil, India, the US and Europe.
"This is a remarkable result that few people would have predicted a year ago. If it wasn't for COVID-19, it wouldn't have happened," said Canalys senior analyst, Ben Stanton.
"Huawei has taken full advantage of the Chinese economic recovery to reignite its smartphone business."
News of Huawei's newfound dominance in smartphones comes as Samsung gears up to host its Galaxy Unpacked 2020 launch on August 5. Samsung is expected to launch a new Galaxy Note smartphone, following up on its flagship Galaxy S20 lineup.
Yesterday, Samsung reported profits were up in Q2 2020, despite the COVID-19 pandemic. New flagship Galaxy phones are expected next week, but the company said it will also expand its expand its popular mid-range Galaxy A-Series smartphones.