Growth in Smartphone AP Market to Return Only in 2020

The slowdown in the global smartphone market has affected all stakeholders. Those in the smartphone supply chain and application processors (AP) have suffered as well. Although the launch of 5G devices this year was projected to give some relief, the US trade ban on Huawei has come as another blow to the industry. The implications of the trade ban will have an effect on the smartphone supply chain as well as APs. We have analyzed leading AP players in the smartphone segment individually to bring to you a glimpse of what to expect in 2019:

  • Qualcomm: The trade sanction on Huawei will adversely affect Qualcomm’s growth in 2019. Qualcomm is also facing competition from MediaTek’s refreshed Helio series chipsets as Chinese brands like Vivo and Xiaomi are launching devices with MediaTek chipsets. Further, there is also increasing adoption of in-house chipsets by Samsung and Huawei. However, we estimate that Qualcomm’s shipments will grow with the increase of 5G smartphone shipments in 2020. Samsung will have to use Qualcomm in its US and China 5G flagships. It is also betting on players like OnePlus and other OEMs sticking with Qualcomm. Meanwhile, in 2019, Qualcomm will include more specific AI capability and flow this capability to mid-range chipsets, which will help grow share of its 600 and 700 series chipsets.
  • MediaTek: MediaTek will decline in 2019 as the ban on Huawei will result in loss of shipments for the company. It will push for adoption with other Chinese brands gearing up to grow outside mainland China, especially with the removal of the ban on MediaTek chipsets in India. MediaTek, with its Helio P90, has launched its first chipset with dedicated space for AI processing called the APU. This has helped boost its share in the high price segment (US$300-US$500). We estimate that MediaTek will bring to market its 5G chipsets for commercial use by Q3 2020.
  • Apple: Apple shipments will continue to decline in 2019. The brand is back in contract with Qualcomm for sourcing basebands for its future iPhones. We expect 5G iPhones will be launched in 2020, most likely in H2 2020. The launch of 5G devices will help Apple grow in 2020.
  • Unisoc: Unisoc (formerly Spreadtrum) will face a decline as global and Chinese OEMs continue to pressure the local brands in India, Africa and South East Asia that were Unisoc’s stronghold. However, due to a substantial share in the feature phone market, we expect Unisoc to capitalize on the smart feature phone opportunity of a cumulative 370 million units over the next three years.
  • Samsung: Samsung has been increasing the use of its in-house Exynos chipsets in its smartphone portfolio. For example, in the entry-level, Samsung Exynos chipsets have replaced Unisoc in newer J-series models. Exynos chipsets replaced MediaTek’s chipsets last year in mid-tier J-series models. While Samsung has its own 5G compatible chipset, it will still have to use Qualcomm for its US and China 5G flagships. We expect more than 70% of Samsung’s smartphone shipments in 2020 will use Exynos chipsets.
  • Huawei: With the US trade ban in place, Huawei will have to use its own HiSilicon chipsets. Huawei is expected to gain share in China to offset the decline in global smartphone markets. Apart from its own OS, Huawei is expected to engineer other components that it has been purchasing from US companies, such as RF components. Japanese component suppliers like Murata may also be able to help. It should still be able to launch the HiSilicon Kirin 985 chipset with its Mate 30 series flagship smartphones later in 2019. But without the support of ARM, HiSilicon is unlikely to be able to launch any new chipsets based on ARM’s core designs.

We estimate that the total smartphone AP market will decline in 2019. However, we expect growth to return in 2020 with a 5G adoption push by mobile operators. Qualcomm will maintain its lead while Samsung, MediaTek, and Huawei continue to increase AP shipment in 2020.

For the full report and forecast on Smartphone AP shipment, please click here.