Big shake up in Chinese smartphone market Q1 2021; OPPO, vivo top the market, realme grows fastest

  • realme’s quarterly shipments grew 82% QoQ, making it the seventh biggest brand in China’s smartphone market.
  • OPPO, vivo topped the market as Huawei continued its descent.
  • Xiaomi also capitalized on Huawei and HONOR’s woes.

Beijing, San Diego, Buenos Aires, London, New Delhi, Seoul – May 21, 2021

China’s smartphone market saw realme’s Q1 2021 sales surge 82% QoQ and 451% YoY, making it the seventh biggest smartphone brand in the country, according to Counterpoint Research’s Market Monitor Service. Despite the China smartphone market growing only 5% in Q1 2021, realme continued to take market share from rivals, suggesting opportunity still exists in the market. OPPO, Xiaomi and vivo were the other prominent brands that made double-digit QoQ sales gains at the cost of Huawei and HONOR.

OPPO and vivo have engaged in a heated battle for the top spot in China’s smartphone market. The rise coincided with the fall of Huawei and newly spun-off HONOR, which struggled due to component shortages following US sanctions. As Huawei focused more on the premium segment, realme, OPPO, Xiaomi and vivo filled in the sizeable gap in the mid segment with timely product launches that ushered in a new generation of 5G capable devices. These brands also expanded their distribution presence with bifurcated efforts in online (driven by Xiaomi and realme) and offline (driven by OPPO and vivo) channels.

Commenting on the shake-up, Senior Analyst Yang Wang said, “realme grew at the fastest clip among major brands. Its distinctive yet effective marketing strategy appealed to budget-sensitive Gen Z audiences, who tend to look for premium features that support a social media, photography and gaming driven digital lifestyle. At the same time, the brand’s product portfolio kept pace with bigger established incumbents, in terms of product launches and key premium specs. At extremely competitive prices, the realme brand stood out among peers.”

Counterpoint Research China Smartphone Sales by Brand, Q1 2021 vs. Q4 2020
Source: Counterpoint Research Monthly Market Pulse Service

The average selling price (ASP) of smartphones in China has rebounded strongly since Q2 2020. However, if we exclude Apple, the ASP may have peaked at just under $300, even with the widening adoption of 5G capable devices. Counterpoint believes the movement toward the sub-$200 or even sub-$150 5G smartphone is well underway, with realme being one of the pioneers. According to Counterpoint data, realme’s strong performance in the past 12 months was mainly due to the mid-range segment, such as the Q2, V3, V5 and V15 series, all of which are mid-range 5G capable devices priced between $150 and $250.

Commenting on realme’s position in China’s smartphone market, Wang further said, “The mid and budget segments will be a key battleground in the next few quarters, and will no doubt garner the attention of all major manufacturers. This price segment is also the one where realme has a competitive edge with strong 5G offerings. In 2020, realme followed an aggressive product launch plan despite the pandemic, with the V, Q and X series covering all price points between $100 and $500. These reasonably priced models come equipped with premium features such as triple or quad camera setups, AI-powered chipsets, high refresh rate displays, long battery life, and slick form factors. They have been well received by pundits and consumers alike.”

Looking ahead to the rest of 2021, as 5G smartphones become ever more mainstream in China, brands will need to stay on their innovative edge with differentiated form factors, designs and technical specifications to persuade customers to upgrade. On the other hand, brands will need to pay ever more attention to supply chain management and components inventory as the global semiconductor shortage continues to worsen. In the very long term, however, we are still waiting for the emergence of the ‘killer’ app(s) that would put to sleep any doubt on 5G smartphone adoption. The timing of this will likely determine how far the current excitement over 5G can extend.

Counterpoint’s Monthly Market Pulse Service keeps close track of market dynamics in key markets like China, as well as identifies emerging stars like realme. The service is available for subscribing clients. 

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Counterpoint Technology Market Research is a global research firm specializing in products in the TMT (technology, media and telecom) industry. It services major technology and financial firms with a mix of monthly reports, customized projects and detailed analyses of the mobile and technology markets. Its key analysts are seasoned experts in the high-tech industry.

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