Can Samsung Remain The Leader in Smartphone Shipments?

Samsung is the undisputed leader in terms of smartphone shipments. It has been the top smartphone vendor every year since 2012. While analyzing annual global performance is insightful, looking at quarterly changes and OEM dynamics from a regional point of view is even more revealing.

A detailed study reveals that Samsung has been receiving greater competition from multiple fronts recently, the most prominent being the major Chinese OEMs such as OPPO, vivo and Xiaomi. Xiaomi has been inching closer to Samsung, even displacing it as the top smartphone vendor globally towards the end of Q2 2021. While this is a major development, it does not necessarily indicate a permanent shift in OEM dynamics.

Samsung has indeed been the top global player annually for the past several years, but it has not always been the top player in each quarter of these years. For example, Samsung lost the top spot in five of the 26 quarters between Q1 2015 and Q2 2021. Usually, Samsung loses the top spot to Apple in Q4 due to the sales of the newly launched iPhone models. In Q2 2020 too, Huawei, together with Honor, which was included at the time, managed to ship more smartphones than Samsung. So, although Xiaomi inching closer to Samsung in Q2 2021 is an event that needs to be taken note of, it is not unprecedented.



That said, Xiaomi has been rising in multiple geographies and topped shipments in Asia and Europe in Q2 2021. While in Asia it has topped shipments often, this was the first time it was topping shipments in Europe.

Xiaomi’s rise also coincides with the decline of Huawei, another major Chinese OEM. Xiaomi, along with OPPO and OnePlus, took over large parts of Huawei’s affordable market, particularly in Europe, while also being among the primary OEMs, along with Samsung, to take over Huawei’s premium affordable segment there. Xiaomi became the market leader in some of the price-conscious markets within Europe, such as Russia.

In Southeast Asia, Xiaomi worked to manage component shortages and focused sufficiently on online channels to edge out OPPO, which had focused instead on marketing. While OPPO’s marketing efforts, including at Wimbledon and Euro 2020, helped it gain market share in Europe, a region relatively new for it, the marginal utility of added marketing effort in an established region such as Southeast Asia was minimal.

It is, nevertheless, also critical to understand the other event which led to this shift. While Xiaomi’s growth has not been accidental, its rise to the very top towards the end of Q2 2021 was also because of production difficulties faced by Samsung due to its factory in Vietnam becoming temporarily non-operational during a COVID-19-triggered lockdown. This came in a quarter where Samsung has historically seen weaker shipments (while Samsung’s shipment share in all Q1s since 2015 has been well over 20%, its shipment share in all Q2s since 2015 has usually been a little above or under 20%).

This, combined with Samsung’s strong vertical integration and availability of its models in a wide range of price bands in every major region, conveys that while we may see Xiaomi beating Samsung for the top spot in several regions regularly and globally in certain quarters (likely in Q2), and Apple beating Samsung for the top spot in Q4s, Samsung is likely to remain the top OEM globally on an annual basis in the near future.