Middle East smartphone shipments grow 21% in third quarter to outpace global peers

Demand is underpinned by economic momentum and the growth of businesses

People take photos and videos of the dancing fountains at The Dubai Mall. Smartphone demand in the UAE during the third quarter was driven by an influx of foreign residents and tourists. AFP
Powered by automated translation

Smartphone shipments in the Middle East grew 21 per cent in the third quarter of 2023, outpacing its global peers and showing the industry's strength in the region amid economic momentum, a study has shown.

Shipments in the region, excluding Turkey, surged to about 12 million units in the three months ending in September, largely supported by "unwavering" domestic demand, Canalys said in its latest quarterly industry update.

The demand is underpinned by the growth of businesses, which are enjoying an increase in their consumer bases and the job opportunities they can provide, the Singapore-based research company said.

Samsung Electronics, the world's biggest mobile phone manufacturer, maintained its lead with 3.8 million units for a 31 per cent market share. Its biggest rival, Apple, shipped 1.3 million units for 11 per cent market share.

But emerging brands are making inroads in the industry. Chinese companies Transsion, Xiaomi and Honor are leading in markets with lower average selling prices, driven by their devices below the $200 price point, said Manish Pravinkumar, a Dubai-based senior consultant at Canalys.

Transsion, the owner of the Tecno, Infinix and Itel brands, is concentrating on the growing mass market segment, while Xiaomi and Honor, the former brand under Huawei Technologies, are tapping into the premium market with "enticing incentives and aggressive promotions", he said.

Transsion and Xiaomi shipped 2.7 million and 1.8 million units, respectively. Rounding out the top five is another Chinese brand, Realme, which shipped about 500,000 devices.

Iraq led the region's growth during the period, where shipments surged 57 per cent year-on-year, driven by demand for handsets below $150 and an increase in brand-related activities, it said.

Saudi Arabia, the Arab world's biggest economy, posted 46 per cent annual growth, as the popularity of entry-level devices rose and as government spending is poised to uphold economic diversification, Canalys said.

The UAE, the second-largest, recorded a 2 per cent increase, driven by an influx of foreign residents and tourists, and the momentum from investors, consumers and the private sector, the study showed.

Shipments in Kuwait and Qatar, meanwhile, declined 4 per cent and 2 per cent, respectively, amid muted consumer demand.

The non-oil economy in the six-nation GCC, in particular, is expected to boost the smartphone consumer market, despite oil price challenges caused by the current geopolitical situation, Sanyam Chaurasia, a senior analyst at Canalys, wrote in the report.

“The GCC’s non-oil economy is thriving due to digital transformation in sectors such as retail, manufacturing, health care and entertainment," he said.

"The retail industry in the UAE and Saudi Arabia is set for significant growth in the next five years."

Demand for smartphones, the most popular and most important communication tool, have been tepid in recent years as consumers have cut down on spending and increasingly postponed upgrading their devices.

The market has also been roiled by a variety of factors, including uncertain economic conditions, high inflation and supply chain issues.

Global smartphone shipments fell to their lowest third-quarter levels in a decade as the recovery in consumer demand was slower than expected, Counterpoint Research said last month.

Despite these, consumers in the Middle East remain willing to spend on smartphones, especially as brands and retailers make significant pushes to attract them, Canalys said.

"While physical stores remain central, online retail and B2B marketplaces are gaining traction, driven by trends such as the emergence of Gen Z consumers, increasing wealth in the GCC and higher female workforce participation," the study said.

Updated: November 25, 2023, 1:38 PM