There have been worries about high global smartphone inventory and weak demand due to high inflation levels. While this might be the story in other regions, the US smartphone market has shown resilience through Q2 2022. Data from the Counterpoint US Monthly Smartphone Channel Share Tracker shows the US smartphone market was down 4% MoM but up 2% YoY in May.
Smartphone inventories in the US are higher than last year. However, 2021 may not be the best YoY comparison as the industry was going through 4G LTE chip shortages last year. Smartphone inventories in the US fluctuate between 4-6 weeks but they can go even higher during new device launches and holiday season channel fills.
We believe that the inventories are normal at present given the seasonality of demand, especially ahead of the back-to-school promotional season. The demand has been steady, driven by strong carrier promotions, especially in postpaid channels.
iOS, Android Inventory Levels in US Smartphone Market
Source: Counterpoint’s US Monthly Smartphone Inventory Tracker
Android vs iOS inventory
Apple has the fastest factory-to-consumer shipping timelines among smartphone OEMs. The iOS inventory was very low at the end of 2021 as the iPhone 13 remained in high demand. The inventory started to increase as the initial demand settled and supply improved. Sell-in continued to improve until March 2022 but dropped back again in April due to China lockdowns. We expect Apple’s Q2 2022 sell-in to remain flat YoY.
Android inventory levels have been higher than in previous years but still manageable. Samsung’s inventory went up in January 2022 driven by the Galaxy S22 series shipments. The Galaxy S22 Ultra accounted for nearly half of the Galaxy S22 series shipments. The Galaxy A13 5G, which is the cheapest 5G device in Samsung’s portfolio, also came in large volumes. Motorola recorded high volumes in Q4 2021 driven by new launches but cooled off in Q1 2021. The brand, too, was impacted by China lockdowns in April 2022 but picked up quickly in May 2022. The Walmart reset was another driver of higher inventories at the end of Q2 2022. This was further supplemented by the launch of new devices from TCL and Nokia HMD, especially in Tracfone channels.
Low-end Android market has growth potential
High smartphone inventory is mostly driven by the low-end sub-$300 Android devices in prepaid and national retail channels. This is manageable ahead of the back-to-school promotional season as the demand is likely to pick up. Besides, with rising inflation, we might see the demand shift back from postpaid to prepaid as consumers shy away from premium postpaid plans and two-year lock-ins. This would be a change from the previous 10 quarters but could further boost demand at the low end.
Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Dish continue to build their prepaid brands. Verizon has strengthened its prepaid presence with the Tracfone acquisition. It now owns Tracfone, Straight Talk, Total Wireless, Net10 and Visible. AT&T, too, enjoys a strong prepaid presence with its Cricket brand. But Dish is likely to be the dark horse that can disrupt the competition in national retail with acquisitions of Republic Wireless, Ting and Gen Mobile. T-Mobile has added national retail doors and its prepaid brand Metro by T-Mobile will remain competitive.
Lastly, as the carriers shut down CDMA networks, they will continue to drive demand for low-cost 4G or entry-level 5G devices. Verizon’s acquisition of Tracfone will drive device upgrades due to compatibility issues as some Tracfone subscribers will migrate from AT&T and T-Mobile’s networks. In addition, DISH must move its Boost subscriber base from T-Mobile’s network to its new MVNO partner, AT&T.
Overall, retail trends in the US market continue to hold strong despite inflationary pressures. Smartphone demand has proved to be resilient both through COVID-19 and the steep inflationary growth of 2021. Though the market can change quickly, early indications are that the US market will see about 3% YoY growth in H2 2022 with a strong Q4 holiday season.