Smartphone makers shipped 385.9 million devices in the fourth quarter of 2020 according to preliminary data from IDC, which is a 4.3 percent increase over the same period a year earlier. But while the global smartphone market ended the year on a high note, IDC’s report points out a few interesting trends that were largely a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and US sanctions against Chinese phone maker Huawei.

Huawei P40 Pro

First up, there’s been a shakeup in market share. Huawei is said to have shipped 32.3 million phones in Q4, 2020, which sounds like a lot until you realize that figure is down from 56.2 million phones in Q4, 2019. That’s a 42.4 percent decline, and it means Huawei is now the world’s fifth largest phone maker rather than the third.

Rivals Apple, Samsung, Xiaomi, and Oppo all saw year-over-year growth, which helps explain why overall shipments were up even though Huawei’s shipments were down.

The US started imposing trade restrictions on Huawei during the Trump administration, but it’s unclear if things will change under the Biden administration. So with Huawei cut off from some of the technology it needs to continue making smartphones, rumor has it that the company is considering selling off its flagship Mate and P smartphone brands.

Top 5 Smartphone Companies, Worldwide Shipments, Market Share, and Year-Over-Year Growth, Q4 2020 (shipments in millions of units)
Company2020Q4 Shipment Volumes2020Q4 Market Share2019Q4 Shipment Volumes2019Q4 Market ShareYear-Over-Year Change
Source: IDC Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker, January 27, 2021

Second, while fourth quarter phone shipment were 4.3 percent higher in 2020 than they were in 2019, total shipments for the year were down by 5.9 percent thanks to the impact of the pandemic which disrupted supply chains during the first half of the year (and which is still taking a toll on economies and individual incomes).

IDC suggests that the end-of-year uptick is a sign of recovery in the smartphone market. But given the events of the past year, I’d be cautious about making any predictions for 2021 about… well, anything really.

Top 5 Smartphone Companies, Worldwide Shipments, Market Share, and Year-Over-Year Growth, Calendar Year 2020 (shipments in millions of units)
Vendor2020 Shipment Volumes2020 Market Share2019 Shipment Volumes2019 Market ShareYear-Over-Year Change
Source: IDC Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker, January 27, 2021

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