Owing to high sales of the iPhone 12 series as well as an aggressive device production strategy by Chinese smartphone brands in response to sanctions on Huawei, which has lost considerable market share as a result, global smartphone production for 1Q21 is likely to reach 342 million units, a YoY increase of 25% and a QoQ decline of just 6%, according to TrendForce’s latest investigations. Historically, smartphone production tends to experience a QoQ drop of around 20% for the first quarter as demand collapses from the peak-season level of the fourth quarter of the preceding year. However, the performance of the first quarter of this year is expected to defy seasonality.
Smartphone production for 4Q20 is estimated at 364 million units, while Apple ranked first in terms of production volume
Even though the share of high-end models in global smartphone sales shrank in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Apple was able to push through the headwinds and capture market share by introducing 5G models and adopting an aggressive pricing strategy. Apple produced 77.6 million units of iPhones in 4Q20, an 85% increase QoQ, thereby overtaking Samsung and ranking first amongst all smartphone brands. It should also be pointed out that iPhone 12 devices accounted for about 90% of the iPhone production in 4Q20. For 1Q21, sales of iPhone 12 devices remain strong, and total iPhone production is expected to reach 54 million units, with iPhone 12 models again accounting for about 80% of this figure. Looking further ahead, Apple plans to launch four new flagship iPhone devices in 2H21 and is likely to adhere to its aggressive pricing strategy. Regarding hardware advances, Apple will upgrade its mobile SoC to the A15 bionic SoC. Other than that, it will optimize various existing functions of the iPhone device. On the whole, the four upcoming flagship models can be regarded as extensions to the iPhone 12 series.
Samsung posted a QoQ decline of 14% in its smartphone production to 67 million units for 4Q20, thereby taking second place in the quarterly ranking. Its performance was affected by the competition from the new iPhone devices and the end of stock-up activities that were related to the year-end holiday season in North America and Europe. Moving to 1Q21, Samsung has released the new lineup of its flagship Galaxy S21 series in advance so as to maintain its market share in the high-end segment. At the same time, Samsung has adopted promotional pricing to boost the sales of its latest devices. Samsung’s quarterly smartphone production volume will likely reach around 62 million units for 1Q21. For the whole 2021, TrendForce expects Samsung to top the annual ranking of brands by production. Nevertheless, retaining the leadership position will be increasingly challenging for Samsung as it has been losing market share to several Chinese brands that have risen rapidly over these past few years. Regarding product strategy, Samsung will likely combine the Galaxy Fold series, equipped with foldable displays, with the Galaxy Note series, which offer large-sized displays, into the same flagship lineup. The main focus of Samsung’s sales efforts will still be on the Galaxy A series that encompasses models across the high-end, mid-range, and low-end segments of the price spectrum. To effectively compete against Chinese brands that boast better price-performance ratio for their devices, Samsung will maintain high specifications and a price advantage for Galaxy A devices.
OPPO (including OPPO, OnePlus, Realme), Xiaomi, and Vivo produced 50 million, 47 million, and 31.5 million units of smartphones respectively in 4Q20, which placed them at third, fourth, and sixth places. Looking ahead to 1Q21, the three aforementioned smartphone brands are expected to maintain an aggressive production target and actively expand in both the overseas and domestic markets. Nonetheless, potential growths in their actual production volume will be limited by the current shortage of production capacities across the foundry industry. In terms of product strategies, the three Chinese brands will remain aggressive in their R&D activities for high-end models as they seek to take over Huawei’s previous position in this segment. In particular, Xiaomi and OPPO have been seizing market shares with the highly cost-effective Redmi and Realme series, respectively. Notably, Xiaomi is expected to achieve a better performance in terms of market share for the whole year due to its earlier expansion in the overseas markets.
In response to heightened China-U.S. tensions, Huawei maintained a high inventory of components, which allowed it to effectively mitigate the impact of sanctions from the Department of Commerce. As such, Huawei recorded a quarterly production volume of 34.5 million units in 4Q20, a 21% decrease QoQ. This performance was sufficient to land Huawei in the fifth place in the production ranking for the quarter. Going forward, if suppliers of relevant smartphone components are unable to obtain approval to ship to Huawei by the end of 1Q21, then Huawei is expected to experience a noticeable cutoff of material supplies by the end of 2Q21. Furthermore, after being officially sold off by its parent company Huawei in early 2021, Honor is similarly facing the issue of foundry capacity shortage, which is projected to constrain the production volume of new Honor for the entirety of 2021.
2021 Ranking of smartphone brands by market share remains under scrutiny as LG suspends R&D of new products
LG has been considering either closing down or selling off its smartphone business since early 2021 while also suspending the R&D of new models. This has introduced additional uncertainties into the smartphone market following Huawei’s diminished presence. Although LG was relentless in innovating and developing high-end smartphones in the past, its sales performances lagged behind more competitive offerings from Samsung and Apple in the high-end segment. In the entry-level and mid-range segments, LG similarly fell short of Chinese brands, whose products enjoyed a pricing advantage. As a result, LG’s smartphone market share underwent gradual YoY declines since 2016, finally coming to ninth place in the global smartphone production ranking in 2020. Going forward, LG will concentrate its sales efforts in the Americas, while its market share is expected to fall to other brands, including Samsung, Xiaomi, and even certain telecom companies’ in-house brands.
For the rest of 2021, as the pandemic gradually slows down, the smartphone industry, which provides an essential daily necessity for the public, is likely to make a recovery as well. Given the industry’s cyclical replacement demand as well as demand from emerging regions, TrendForce projects the total smartphone production volume for 2021 to reach 1.36 billion units, a 9% increase YoY. It should be pointed out that the recent shortage in foundry capacities has led to a very limited supply of smartphone components, such as AP and TDDI. This means most smartphone brands have to make do with the materials they are able to obtain, even if such materials constitute a bottleneck in the manufacturing process. As a result, the boundaries between what would otherwise be off seasons and peak seasons will be relatively ambiguous this year, resulting in a smaller magnitude of QoQ growths.
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