Global shipments of smartphones dropped to their lowest level in eight years in the third quarter as geopolitical factors affecting the global economy continued to subdue market demand, according to a study by Counterpoint Research.
The 12 per cent fall to about 301 million units in the three months through September was the steepest decline since the third quarter of 2014, the Hong Kong-based market data company said in its quarterly update on Friday.
Russia’s military offensive in Ukraine, tensions between the US and China, stubbornly high inflation, recession worries and weakening currencies further dented demand that had already weakened in the previous quarters, it added.
The overall smartphone sector is also being affected by longer replacement cycles as devices are becoming more durable and technological advancements are slowing down, Harmeet Walia, a senior analyst at Counterpoint, said in the report.
“This is accompanying, and to a smaller degree advancing, a fall in the shipments of mid- and lower-end smartphones, even as the premium segment weathers the economic storm better,” he added.
“Consequently, and thanks to an earlier launch of the latest iPhone series this year, Apple emerged as the only top-five smartphone vendor to manage annual shipment growth in the quarter.”
Smartphone shipments were boosted by a slight recovery from Samsung Electronics and Apple, the world's largest mobile phone makers, helping to push them above the 300-million mark in the third quarter.
In the second quarter of this year, shipments dipped below that level — the first time since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020.
However, the sector is on track for another annual decline: in the first nine months of this year, smartphone shipments hit about 921.9 million and are unlikely to surpass 2021's 1.39 billion units, which marked the first positive growth since 2017.
The Covid-19 pandemic triggered disruptions in supply chains owing to widespread lockdowns that lasted for months, resulting in parts shortages that affected smartphone makers.
The market, however, is recovering gradually.
California-based Apple, which launched its new iPhone 14 line-up last month, was the only top manufacturer to improve in the third quarter, with shipments up 1.7 per cent to 48.8 million, from 48 million a year earlier.
South Korea's Samsung, the world's biggest smartphone manufacturer, saw its shipments decline 7.6 per cent annually to 64 million units, from 69.3 million. The company launched its new Fold and Flip smartphones in August, which posted record presales.
Compared with the previous quarter, third-quarter shipments of Apple and Samsung grew 5 per cent and 2.5 per cent, respectively, helping the market recover, Counterpoint data showed.
Chinese manufacturers Xiaomi, Oppo and Vivo retained their places in the top five, but all of three recorded year-on-year declines. Xiaomi dropped about 9 per cent, while Oppo — which includes OnePlus sales — and Vivo both fell 23 per cent.
While an increase is expected in the fourth quarter — mainly due to Apple's new iPhones and the holiday season — demand is expected to remain sluggish in the first half of 2023, with lengthening replacement rates expected to continue affecting the sector, said Jan Stryjak, an associate director at Counterpoint.
However, he warned that central bank interest rate hikes to tame inflation will likely affect consumer demand.
“Hence, shipments are unlikely to reach last year’s levels, let alone pre-pandemic fourth-quarter levels of over 400 million units.”