China smartphone market hits record high

The very popular Huawei Mate 9 helped propel Huawei to the top.
The very popular Huawei Mate 9 helped propel Huawei to the top.

Everybody knows China is big but with nearly half a billion smartphones shipped last year, the market is massive — that’s one smartphone for every three person in the world’s most populous country.

According to Canalys estimates, China reached 476.5 million unit shipment, growing year on year at 11.4 percent, far exceeding the annual growth rate of 1.9 percent in 2015. China shipment reached 131.6 million units in Q4, which is the highest single quarter total in history, accounting for nearly a third of worldwide shipment.

Huawei took the top spot in the market with 76.2 million shipment, a small lead ahead of runner-up Oppo with 73.2 million units, followed by Vivo in third place at 63.2 million units.

The smartphone market recovery was driven by several factors. Leading domestic manufacturers Huawei, Oppo and Vivo invested heavily in new product and channel developments.

“In 2016, the top three brands were competing with new product launches, go-to-market strategies and brand building. Also, their flagship products started to contribute to a much larger part of their total shipments and created a halo effect for the rest of the portfolio, like Samsung and Apple,” said Jessie Ding, Research Analyst of Canalys.

While Apple, Samsung and Xiaomi are all in the process of adjusting their strategies in China, Huawei took the opportunity to consolidate its position in the tier-one and tier-two cities.

“Huawei also began attacking Oppo and Vivo’s backyard in the tier-three and tier-four cities, through its ‘thousands of towns’, targeting open channels,” said Ding.

Conversely, Oppo and Vivo started to move upscale to target consumers in the tier-one and tier-two cities through heavy investments in branding.

“In 2017, competition between Huawei, Oppo and Vivo will become much more intense, while their increasing scale and bargaining power within the industry will have a larger impact on device strategies of operators and open channel partners. This will leave very little room for smaller brands to increase share. Moreover, among these three vendors, it will be difficult for one of them to capture more than 20.0 percent market share and be a clear leader under current competitive conditions,” added Ding.

Xiaomi became number four in the China smartphone market, while Apple fell to fifth place. Xiaomi shipped a total of 51.4 million units of smartphones with a 21.0 percent year-on-year decline, while its market share decreased from 15.2 percent in 2015 to 10.7 percent in 2016, the lowest since 2013. Apple shipped 43.8 million units of iPhones throughout the year, a year-on-year decrease of 18.2 percent.

“China and Hong Kong are still the hardest-hit areas in Apple’s global top ten market. This directly led to a 7.0% decline in global shipments compared to 2015. This year, the outlook remains bleak for Apple to get its China performance back to its heyday of 2015. As with consumers in other developed markets, China’s consumers are awaiting the 10th anniversary of the iPhone with very high expectations,” said Ding.

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