Global smartphone shipments had already started to shrink before 2020, though two years of pandemic and the resulting supply chain and chip restrictions certainly didn’t help the overall numbers. According to a couple of reports from Counterpoint Search and CDIhowever, the market finally experienced growth last year for the first time since 2017.
Counterpoint puts overall year-over-year growth at 4%, with a slightly more optimistic 5.7% from IDC. Both companies, however, point to a decline for the fourth quarter of 6% and 3.2% respectively. The decline was to be expected, of course, given the continuing shortage of chips, which has taken a huge toll on smaller manufacturers with less influence over the supply chain than the likes of Apple and Samsung.
Both companies put Samsung at the top of the year with a 6% increase, with Apple taking second place. The companies also echo a recent report by Canalys that made Apple win the quarter. Apple confirmed those sentiments with an excellent quarterly earnings report, fueled in large part by the success of the iPhone.
The company’s iPhone division saw sales growth of 9% year-on-year to $71.63 billion. CEO Tim Cook confirmed that supply chain restrictions were an ongoing hurdle for the company, with demand outstripping supply in some markets, but added in a call that he sees the problems starting to ease, moving forward. These questions ultimately point to a market that would otherwise have recovered more robustly.
“The fact that 2021 would have come in dramatically higher had it not been for supply constraints adds even more positivity to the healthy 5.7% growth we saw in 2021,” IDC Research Director Nabila Popal said in a statement. “To me, this sends a message that there is significant pent-up demand in almost every region. Even in China, where there are some challenges around weakening consumer demand, the market performed much better in the fourth quarter than expected, 5% better to be exact, although still a year-over-year decline.”
While China continues to be hit hard by supply chain constraints, the #2 and #3 smartphone markets have seen growth in 2021.
“The growth in the US was largely driven by demand for Apple’s first 5G-enabled iPhone 12 series that stretched into the first quarter of 2021; demand that continued throughout the year, ending in a strong fourth quarter thanks to Black Friday and holiday season promotions,” said Counterpoint analyst Harmeet Singh Walia. “India also had a good year due to higher replacement rates, better availability and more attractive financing options on mid- to high-end phones.”
After nearly a decade of strong growth, a decline in demand grew before the pandemic, due to slower update cycles, high prices and market saturation. COVID-19 further fueled the downturn as consumers were less willing to spend. These problems were further exacerbated by supply chain issues, although pent-up demand and things like 5G have once again piqued interest, although overall shipments still remain below pre-pandemic levels.