Global smartphone market hit hard by Covid-19 outbreak

March 25, 2020 13:35
Xiaomi overtook Huawei as the third-largest smartphone maker in February. Photo: AFP

Normally, the first quarter of the calendar year is a busy season for smartphone makers. Major players such as Samsung Electronics, Huawei Technologies and Xiaomi launched their latest flagship devices for the first half of the year in March.

This year, however, while key players have carried on with the tradition, supply constraints are affecting the sector with many workers finding it hard to go to factories in view of the lockdowns imposed in various countries to fight the coronavirus outbreak.

It is still uncertain when the situation will return to normal.

According to Strategy Analytics, global smartphone shipments tumbled 38 percent to 61.8 million units in February, from 99.2 million a year ago. It was the biggest drop in the history of the global smartphone market.

All the top six smartphone makers saw shipment declines for the month. Samsung maintained its market-leading position with 18 million units, down only slightly from January. That's probably because most of its plants are in South Korea and Vietnam, which were still able to keep their factories churning during the period.

Apple, however, saw its shipment tumble 37.5 percent to only 10 million units; most of its iPhones are produced in Foxconn’s plants in mainland China.

Chinese brands Xiaomi, Huawei, OPPO and Vivo suffered month-on-month declines of more than 40 percent in February. Huawei saw a 55 percent drop, which is also due to the US trade ban.

Xiaomi, meanwhile, overtook Huawei as the third-largest smartphone maker. It shipped 6 million units in February as against Huawei's 5.5 million units.

But while Xiaomi appears to have surpassed Huawei in online marketing, Huawei has performed strongly in both the domestic and overseas markets.

Xiaomi launched its flagship Mi 10 series in China in February, but Huawei will only launch its P40 series this week. That means Xiaomi has enjoyed a month’s advantage in selling its latest products in the market even though China is still fighting the outbreak.

Xiaomi on Monday unveiled the Redmi K30 Pro, its latest flagship product with an affordable price. The phone comes with Qualcomm S865 mobile platform for 5G connectivity, and a circular camera module with four lenses arranged in a square. It has a 6.67-inch screen and a pop-up front camera.

The phone will sell for 2,999 yuan (US$424.12). The zoom edition with better camera specifications will start at 3,799 yuan.

While the K30 Pro is intended for China's mass market to drive 5G growth, the model will also test the overseas markets as it comes with Google Mobile Services. Overseas smartphone users can use a series of Google applications and services by just downloading them from the Google Play store.

That's a great advantage as the absence of Google services is the pain point of Huawei's new smartphones under the US government order. And that means Xiaomi could capture some of Huawei's market share, given that overseas users rely heavily on Google apps and services.

For many global players like Samsung and Apple, their smartphone shipment could still face pressure in March as the outbreak has been intensifying in Europe and the United States.

Apple has closed all of its retail shops outside the Greater China region as part of its efforts to combat the coronavirus. Earlier this month, Apple even set a purchase limit on its popular iPhone products; online customers could buy only two units for each iPhone model on Apple online stores in the US, China, Hong Kong and Europe.

But Apple dropped the arrangement on Tuesday as all of its retail stores outside the Greater China region have been closed in view of the coronavirus outbreak.

Apple less than a month ago issued a revenue warning to investors, noting that it was suffering from supply issues and weakened demand as the virus ravaged its Chinese operations.

The company expects its factories will return to full operation by the end of March.

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EJ Insight writer