Japan Smartphone Sales Recover to Pre-COVID Levels in Q3 2020

• Low- and mid-end devices drive recovery

• Q4 to maintain momentum, led by iPhone 12

Japan’s smartphone market showed clear signs of recovery in Q3 2020 after the COVID-induced low point in the previous quarter, according to Counterpoint’s Japan handset tracker. Smartphone sales plummeted 24% YoY in Q2 2020 but went up 10% YoY in the following quarter.

Japan reported an average of 600 daily new cases during the first wave of COVID-19 in March, but these surged to above 1,000 per day during the second wave in August. Despite this, the smartphone market managed to rebound and return to the pre-virus levels. This rapid recovery was driven by the latest iPhone SE and many other mid-and low-end smartphones aimed at increasingly cost-sensitive consumers. Moreover, the country’s overall consumer sentiment started to improve slowly in Q3 2020 as the Japanese government avoided strict measures that would have impacted the economy.

Exhibit 1: Japan Smartphone Unit Sales

Counterpoint Research Japan Smartphone Unit Sales
Source: Counterpoint Japan handset tracker

Apple lost share due to delayed launch of new iPhone

Apple, the top smartphone player in Japan, saw its market share decline to 45% in Q3 2020 from 50% a year ago due to the delayed iPhone 12 launch. Samsung fared well, with its market share increasing from 5% in Q3 2019 to 8% in Q3 2020, driven by the Galaxy A20 and other A-series models. OPPO was another brand that saw a gradual expansion, with its market share increasing from 2% in Q3 2019 to 5% in Q3 2020.

Apple’s iPhone sales were driven by the iPhone SE 2020, which solely captured 26% of the total market in Q3 2020. The iPhone SE 2020 offers compact design — appealing to the iPhone users who prefer small displays with new hardware — at low prices. The combination of these attractive features led to remarkable results in the wake of the pandemic.

Exhibit 2: Japan Smartphone Brand Share

Counterpoint Research Japan Smartphone Brand Share
Source: Counterpoint Japan handset tracker

Low and mid segments eye new growth opportunity

The Japanese smartphone market in Q3 2020 saw the premium segment contract, but the low and mid segments expanded. The sub-$150 price band jumped from 5% in Q3 2019 to 19% in Q3 2020, helped by the Samsung Galaxy A20 and Fujitsu Arrows Be4. In contrast, the $600 and above band plunged from 35% in Q3 2019 to 18% in Q3 2020. There were some favorable developments that took place in the low and mid segments, like Apple’s iPhone SE 2020 performing well and Samsung and OPPO introducing a wide range of devices. Premium smartphones have dominated Japan’s market for past several years. The pandemic offered a new opportunity for the low and mid segments to lead the overall market.

Exhibit 3: Japan Smartphone Price Band Share

Counterpoint Research Japan Smartphone Price Band Share
Source: Counterpoint Japan handset tracker

Q4 outlook: Apple to drive Japan market with iPhone 12

We expect Q4 2020 to maintain momentum, led by the iPhone 12, which was released during this quarter. The iPhone 12’s initial sales have been strong, signaling its Q4 sales will outperform those of the iPhone 11. We see multiple factors in play for the potential success of the iPhone 12the first 5G iPhone, pent-up demand created by the pandemic, and a large number of iPhone users wanting to replace their devices.

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