Huawei holds onto number two smartphone spot… for the moment

Huawei has held onto the number two spot for smartphone shipments during the first quarter of 2019, but storm clouds are gathering on the horizon.

According to estimates from Gartner, Samsung is leading the smartphone manufacturers owning 19.2% of market share over the first three months, though Huawei is closing the gap with 15.7%. All three Chinese brands in the top five grew market share over the period, with Apple also declining to 11.9%, shrinking in the Huawei shadow.

Brand Q1 2019 market share Q1 2019 shipments Q1 2018 market share Q1 2018 shipments
Samsung 19.2% 71.6 million 20.5% 78.5 million
Huawei 15.7% 58.4 million 10.5% 40.4 million
Apple 11.9% 44.5 million 14.1% 54 million
Oppo 7.9% 29.6 million 7.3% 28.1 million
Vivo 7.3% 27.3 million 6.1% 23.2 million
Others 37.9% 141.4 million 41.5% 159 million

This might look very promising for the under-fire Chinese vendor, but it does seem the joy might be short-lived. While European and Asian governments are keen not to ban the vendor from selling smartphones or infrastructure equipment in their markets, they might not be able to stem consumer fears.

The anti-China rhetoric might not be anywhere near the same levels as in the US, but consumers will not be keen to invest in a substandard product. This might be the case moving forward, should Huawei remain on the ‘Entity List’, effectively banning it from working with any US firms, including Google.

The prospect of an Android-less Huawei device, and a home-grown operating system to replace it, has been much discussed, but soon enough the reality will hit home with consumers. Without support for popular Google-owned applications, experience will soon drop. Huawei might be able to provide a suitably effective alternative, but not being able to access Google’s apps and services will turn off some consumers.

One of the issues Huawei will face is that of the unknown. Huawei’s OS might be perfectly good, but no-one knows. It might have the supporting ecosystem, but no-one knows. It might be able to create apps to rival Google offerings, but no-one knows. Asking cash-conscious consumers to spend so much on so many unknowns will be a very difficult task.

This might not have an impact on Huawei’s biggest market, China, where the firm controls around 29% market share for smartphones, but Europeans are Google obsessed. This is Huawei’s second biggest region, representing 69% year-on-year growth for the first quarter, and one which represents more opportunity for growth. The US friction could put a severe dent in the consumer unit’s ambitions.

For Apple, it seems its traditional business is becoming increasingly competitive. There will of course be several reasons for this, namely a lack of innovation in recent years and extortionate prices, but there might be a glimmer of hope on the horizon.

As it stands, the misery is likely to continue over the next couple of months. With 5G phones hitting the shelves, early adopters may well snub their loyalties to experience the connectivity euphoria. Apple will not release a 5G-compatible device until 2020, but by missing out on the first wave it will learn the pitfalls of rival launches.

The second-wave of devices, Apple will be a front-runner in this one, will likely be where we see the greatest progress. The bugs and shortfalls will be identified and corrected, and there might well be some applications to make use of the data headroom which is created through 5G. There will also be more attractive tariffs available, with prices driven down by competition. These factors will push 5G into greater market adoption.

It might also recapture the loyalties of faltering iLifers…

Winning in the market share rankings today is certainly something to shout about, however success needs to be maintained over the next 12-18 months. Once 5G is pushed out to the mass market, there will be plenty of opportunities to sell extortionately priced devices. Apple appear to be aiming at this second-phase of 5G devices, building with the consumer hype, while Huawei will have to navigate the stormy seas.

If US tension forces Huawei devices out of consumer hands before the 5G device refreshment cycle, it might just miss out on the bigger prize.