KUALA LUMPUR (Feb 16): Global sales of smartphones to end users totalled 432 million units in the fourth quarter of 2016 (4Q16), a 7% year-on-year increase, according to information technology research and advisory company Gartner Inc.
In a statement today, Gartner said 4Q16 saw Apple leapfrog past Samsung to secure the No. 1 global smartphone vendor position — Apple sold 77.04 million units of smartphones compared to Samsung, which saw a sale of 76.78 million units.
In 2016 overall, smartphone sales to end users totalled nearly 1.5 billion units, an increase of 5% from 2015, Gartner said.
"This is the second consecutive quarter in which Samsung has delivered falling quarterly smartphone sales," said Gartner research director Anshul Gupta.
"Samsung's smartphone sales declined 8% in the fourth quarter of 2016 and its share dropped by 2.9 percentage points year on year," he added.
"Samsung's smartphone sales started to drop in the third quarter of 2016, and the decision to discontinue the Galaxy Note 7 slowed down sales of its smartphone portfolio in the fourth quarter," added Gupta.
"The withdrawal of the Galaxy Note 7 left a gap in its large-screen phone range," Gupta said.
Gartner noted that Samsung also faced growing competition in the mid-tier and entry-level smartphone segments from Huawei, Oppo, BBK and Gionee, which all grew their sales each quarter.
"The last time Apple was in the leading position was in the fourth quarter of 2014, when its sales were driven by its first ever large-screen iPhone 6 and 6 Plus," said Gupta.
"This time it achieved it thanks to strong sales of its flagship phones — the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus; it also benefited from the weakened demand for Samsung's smartphones in mature markets such as North America and Western Europe, and in some mature markets in Asia such as Australia and South Korea," Gupta added.
Huawei, Oppo and BBK Communication Equipment accounted for 21.3% of smartphones sold to end users worldwide during the fourth quarter of 2016, an increase of 7.3 percentage points year on year, said Gartner.
"Huawei introduced Mate 9 during the quarter — within a month of Samsung discontinuing the Galaxy Note 7 — which was good timing to position it as an alternative," said Gupta.
Gartner mentioned that Huawei's premium smartphone offering has helped it to reduce the gap with Samsung during 4Q16, with a difference of 36 million units. That gap was more than 50 million units in the same period last year.
Offering high-performance, front-facing cameras and fast charging smartphones led Oppo to maintain the No. 1 position in China during the fourth quarter of 2016, said Gartner.
It added that Oppo's strong position in China and continued sales growth in the markets outside China has helped Oppo position itself as the No. 4 smartphone vendor worldwide.
Meanwhile, Gartner said BBK continued its hold on the No. 2 position in China and was marginally ahead of Huawei during 4Q16.
It added that BBK's strong performance in India, where its sales grew by 278% in 4Q16 and more than 363% in 2016 overall, allowed it to emerge as the No. 5 smartphone vendor worldwide.
Gartner said that top Chinese brands such as Oppo, BBK, Huawei, ZTE, Xiaomi and Lenovo are aggressively expanding into markets outside China, where they will continue to disrupt the top smartphone players in 2017.
"Samsung needs to successfully launch the next Galaxy flagship phone in order to continue the momentum Galaxy S7 generated, and win back lost customers by launching a new large screen and stylus-equipped smartphone," said Gupta.
Gartner said that Google's Android extended its lead by capturing 82% of the total market in 4Q16 in the smartphone operating system (OS) market.
It added that in 2016 overall, Android also grew its market share by 3.2 percentage points to reach an 84.8% share, and was the only OS to grow market share year on year.
"The entry of Google's Pixel phone has made the premium Android smartphone offering more competitive, while the re-entry of HMD (Nokia) in the basic (mid-tier) smartphone category is set to further increase the competition in emerging markets," said Gupta.