Counterpoint Research: Smartphone Market Decline Ends, What Might Help it Grow?

The global smartphone market showed signs of recovery ending a long period of continuous quarterly YoY declines. Shipments during 3Q 2019 were flat at 380 million units. The two markets that helped halt the slide are India, which has been growing steadily, and China, now showing a slower decline.

Both countries saw healthy channel builds, in India, OEMs prepared early for Diwali and online sales. In China, Huawei, Oppo and Vivo enjoyed healthy demand ahead of the National Day Golden Week holiday in October. The upcoming holiday season should drive smartphone demand into growth for the second half of the year.


  • Samsung continued its growth thanks to strong sales of the Galaxy Note 10 and Galaxy A series. The improved product-mix helped it post better profits.
  • Huawei grew a healthy 28.5% YoY globally. It captured a record 40% market share in China. It rebounded in Europe after the decline mid-year caused by the US trade ban. As it continues its aggressive push, there’s an increased need for careful inventory management in China and Europe in Q4 2019.
  • Apple iPhone shipments were down 4% YoY. However, initial uptake for the iPhone 11 series was robust. In the US, pre-orders and the first week of sales, saw more demand for the iPhone 11 Pro Max and iPhone 11 Pro, but the standard iPhone 11 rose quickly into the best-seller’s list.
  • Apple’s price corrections in China and elsewhere with iPhone 11 and iPhone XR stimulated demand during the last week of September.
  • Realme was the fastest-growing brand for the second successive quarter, capturing 7th place globally. Strong performances in India and Indonesia drove its growth.

Counterpoint believes the key OEMs with the largest installed bases, especially in developed regions, will rely on 5G as a key point of differentiation and will encourage their users to upgrade.  Already, 5G rollouts have been faster than 4G was in its first few months, with 15 commercially available 5G devices and many more lined-up for launch in the last few months of 2019. Nevertheless, 5G smartphones only accounted for 2% of shipments in Q3 2019 and will contribute relatively little to the overall market for the full year 2019. But, 2020 will likely be a breakout year for 5G smartphone adoption,rekindling smartphone demand.

Note: This author completely disagrees with that last conclusion.  We don’t think 5G smartphone adoption will achieve any real market traction till late 2021-early 2022.

Analyst Contacts:

Neil Shah | Peter Richardson

SOURCE Counterpoint Research


Looking at the current scenario, Xiaomi, famous for its commitment to affordability, launched the cheapest 5G model in China at the end of September. The new flagship of Xiaomi’s number series, MI 9 Pro 5G, has a starting price of roughly US$520.

Exhibit 1: 5G enabled new models in 2019

5G Enabled New Models in 2019

According to the analysis of the 5G cost structure, we expect an addition of US$50 to implement the sub-6Ghz only by using a standalone 5G modem.

However, costs can be reduced through the integration of a modem with the SoC (System on a Chip). Huawei’s Kirin 990 and Samsung’s Exynos 980 had taken a step ahead in this direction, and Qualcomm is expected to launch its first 5G SoC in the Snapdragon 700 family by the end of 2019. Besides, both Qualcomm, MediaTek plans to mass-produce respective 5G flagship platform SDM865, MTK6885, in Q1 2020.

Exhibit 2: 5G platform timeline in 2019 & 2020

5G Platform Timeline in 2019 & 2020Given the fragmented frequency allocation, we expect smartphone brands targeting North America and parts of European markets will customize designs with an external 5G model for mmWave, even though, most 5G models will resort to a 5G SoC for a cheaper sub-6Ghz only solution.

To sum up, we believe that 5G smartphones will be available in the mid-end price bands over the course of 2020. As a result, cheaper solutions for a next-generation offering will unlock consumer demand for upgrades of their smartphones.

2 thoughts on “Counterpoint Research: Smartphone Market Decline Ends, What Might Help it Grow?

  1. China 5G rollout to drive first smartphone shipment rise in 4 years – IDC:

    The global smartphone market is set to return to growth for the first time in 4 years in 2020 on the back of China’s huge investment in 5G technology, according to the latest report from IDC. Worldwide shipments are expected to grow 1.5 percent year on year in 2020 to just over 1.4 billion following falls of 0.3 percent in 2017, 4.3 percent in 2018 and an expected 1.4 percent this year. The 2020 figure is set to include 190 million 5G smartphones, accounting for 14 percent of the total, driven by recent developments in the China market along with anticipation of aggressive activity from the smartphone supply chain and OEMs, said IDC.
    The report expressed the hope that 5G smartphone prices will quickly come down quickly to boost the growth of this market segment. “Following three straight years of declining smartphone volumes there leaves little room for 5G to raise smartphone ASPs,” said IDC, adding that Android vendors are expected to drive down the cost of 5G smartphones starting with a host of first quarter announcements at both CES and MWC. Apple is expected to enter the 5G smartphone market in September 2020, with the real focus around pricing and market availability.

    In contrast to the expected rapid 5G growth in China, demand in other markets such as Australia, Japan, and Korea in Asia/Pacific as well as some European countries is set to be slower than predicted, added IDC. The report said shipments so far in the second half of 2019 have come in much lower than expected, with accelerated 5G adoption globally depending on factors such as the arrival of 5G networks, operator support, as well as substantial price reductions.–1317726

  2. I need to to thank you for this fantastic read on the smartphone market! I certainly loved every bit of it. I have you bookmarked to look at new IEEE Techblog posts…

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