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Phone shipments plummet as coronavirus takes its toll


Market set to fall by 13.1 percent this year; uneven recovery expected in the second half of 2020, says Omdia

Global smartphone shipments dropped by 16.8 percent in the first quarter as vendors struggled to manage coronavirus-driven production shutdowns, product-launch delays and depressed consumer demand.

Shipments in the first quarter fell to 274.4 million units, down from 329.9 million during the same period in 2019, according to the Omdia Smartphone Intelligence Service. This plunge impacted all the major smartphone brands, with nine of the top-10 OEMs suffering shipment declines compared to the first quarter of 2019.

“Early in the first quarter, the smartphone market was sent reeling by the shutdown of production at facilities in China, which halted the manufacturing of phones and their key components,” said Jusy Hong, smartphone research and analysis director at Omdia. “While concerns about this situation have been alleviated, the smartphone brands also faced new challenges, including disrupted launch schedules for new phones. Even more troubling for smartphone makers is a major decline in global demand due to government lockdown mandates.”

Despite expected rebounds in some countries, the rest of the year is expected to be challenging for smartphone OEMs. Omdia forecasts global smartphone shipments will decline to 1.20 billion units this year, down 13.1 percent from 1.39 billion in 2019.

OEMs feel the pain in the first quarter

Almost across the board, smartphone OEMs faced significant declines in unit shipments compared to the first quarter of 2019.

Samsung retained the top position, with 58.9 million units shipped during the first quarter—a 17 percent decline compared to the first quarter of 2019. Second-ranked Huawei saw its shipments decline by more than 17 percent, to 49 million units, down from 59.1 million in the first quarter of 2019.

Apple, in third place, saw shipments decline to 38.5 million units, down from 43.8 million a year earlier. The 12.0 percent decline comes during the first quarter, historically the weakest period of the year for Apple.

Rounding out the Top 5 are Xiaomi and OPPO. Out of the Top 10, Xiaomi experienced the second least severe decline in the quarter, of 8.2 percent. Only Tecno, in 10th place, attained a lower decrease better with a 7.6 percent year-over-year decline. Xiaomi shipped 25.3 million units in the first quarter, compared to 27.5 million units in 2019. OPPO, on the other hand, suffered a 19.2 percent decline, with shipments falling to 20.4 million units, down from 25.2 million a year earlier.

Realme bucks the downturn

The rest of the Top 10 is made up of vivo, Realme, Motorola, LG, and Tecno. The bright spot here is Realme, which achieved year-over-year growth based on its continued success in India. seventh-ranked Realme was the only top-10 OEM to attain growth during the quarter, with shipments totaling 6.1 million units, up 88 percent from 3.2 million during the first quarter of 2019.

For the others in this group, the first quarter brought significant challenges. Looking at vivo, company shipments declined 19.9 percent, falling from 24.3 million units last year to 19.5 million this year. Motorola, in eighth place, saw shipments decline 35.4 percent to 5.5 million units. While Motorola finally launched its updated RAZR, featuring a foldable display, the publicity surrounding that high-profile device was not enough to support the overall performance of Motorola’s product portfolio.

With or without the impact of the pandemic, LG continues to struggle with its mobile handset division. Shipments declined to 5.4 million units, down from 8.6 million units a year ago—a drop of 37.4 percent. Rounding out the top 10 is Tecno, which saw units decline by a relatively modest 7.6 percent, declining from 3.8 million units last year to 3.5 million units in the first quarter.

First-half struggles

“The smartphone market will face major struggles in the first half of 2020 as different countries experience the initial shock and recovery periods at different times. That’s why OEMs are more afraid of second-quarter sales results,” Hong said. “However, Omdia does expect the smartphone market to start to recover in some countries and regions in the second half of the year.”

Early in the first quarter, the most severe impact on the smartphone market was the shutdown of production and supply chain facilities in China. However, fears over a prolonged closure of essential production, supply chain and logistics operations in China have been alleviated, as signs point to economic activity ramping up quickly in the country.

Smartphone makers in the first quarter also had their product-launch plans disrupted by the cancellation of the Mobile World Congress event in Barcelona, Spain, where many companies had planned to roll out new products.

“Because of the cancellation of the Mobile World Congress, and uncertainty in the supply chain, original product schedules had to be re-evaluated,” said Gerrit Schneemann, senior analyst, smartphones, at Omdia. “However, OEMs seem to have found their footing on how to address new device launches going forward.”

Demand disaster

The impact of the outbreak on the smartphone business has now shifted almost completely to the demand side of the equation.

“Although handsets can be produced at nearly normal levels, the markets for these handsets are mostly in some state of shutdown,” Hong said. “Some countries have made more progress in dealing with the outbreak, while others are still in the midst of fighting the pandemic, and still others won’t feel the full effects of the pandemic until later in the year.”

In Europe, where some countries have been under strict lockdown rules for some time, initial efforts have been made to ease restrictions. Similarly, South Korea has taken steps to open up. In other countries, like in some parts of the United States, only the last few weeks of the quarter were impacted by broad stay-at-home orders, while consumer behaviour had remained unrestricted until then.

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