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Apple retakes second place in smartphone shipment rankings as sanctions bite Huawei

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Samsung’s still number one, but its shipments were down

Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

Apple overtook Huawei to reclaim its spot as the second-bestselling smartphone manufacturer in the world in 2020, according to new research reports from Counterpoint Research and Canalys. Samsung was still the leading seller in terms of number of smartphones shipped, while Xiaomi, Oppo, and Vivo took the next three spots, according to Counterpoint.

It was just under a year ago that the same research analysts reported that Huawei had overtaken Apple to take second place in 2019. But since then, US trade sanctions seem to have hit Huawei hard. The Chinese company’s smartphone shipments were 21 percent lower in 2020 compared to 2019, according to Counterpoint, and Huawei dropped out of the top five entirely in the fourth quarter of the year. It’s the first time in six years Huawei hasn’t been in the top five, Canalys notes.

Huawei’s smartphone shipments dropped out of the top five in Q4 2020.
Image: Canalys

Although Huawei was still able to hold on to the number three spot overall, thanks to domestic sales in China (where it reportedly shipped 70 percent of its phones in 2019), Xiaomi seized the opportunity to expand internationally and saw shipments increase by 17 percent in 2020 compared to 2019. However, the fastest-growing smartphone brand in 2020 was reportedly Realme, which shipped 65 percent more phones than it did in 2019.

Apple’s gains were more modest, increasing by 3 or 5 percent year over year depending on whether you ask Counterpoint Research or Canalys. The latter notes that Apple shipped the most iPhones ever in the fourth quarter of last year.

Counterpoint Research reports that Apple overtook Huawei last year.
Image: Counterpoint Research

Although it’s still the bestselling smartphone manufacturer in the world, both reports suggest that Samsung’s smartphone business is losing market share. Both Canalys and Counterpoint say its shipments fell 14 percent in 2020 compared to 2019. It’s still around 50 million smartphones ahead of second place Apple, but the gap appears to be narrowing. Counterpoint says that the South Korean electronics giant is facing stiff competition from Apple at the high end of the market and from Chinese manufacturers in the midrange.

Overall, the entire smartphone market was reportedly down compared to 2019. Canalys reports that shipments were down 7 percent, while Counterpoint reports a bigger 10 percent decline. Counterpoint blames the pandemic and resulting lockdowns for the drop, but notes that shipments began to pick up in the second half of the year.