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Apple in 2023 became the world’s top smartphone maker by volume for the first time, ending Samsung’s 12-year reign as the industry leader as consumers trade up to higher-priced handsets.
The iPhone manufacturer last year was the only major handset maker to post annual unit growth, according to research group IDC, with 2023 shipments rising 3.7 per cent to 234.6mn to edge ahead of Samsung’s 226.6mn.
That uplift from Apple came in a year that was the worst in a decade for the smartphone market, with device shipments falling 3.2 per cent to 1.17bn units, IDC said.
Measured by revenues and profits, Apple has long been the top smartphone maker thanks to the iPhone’s dominance in the high end of the market. But last year was the first in which it also led by volume.
Samsung, which is preparing to launch its flagship Galaxy S24 model this week, reported a 13.6 per cent fall in shipments last year, as Huawei regained share in China and cheaper Android handset makers posted stronger growth.
In particular, Chinese manufacturer Transsion — whose brands Tecno, Infinix and itel have made it Africa’s dominant smartphone company — grew 30.8 per cent last year, putting it in the top five behind Xiaomi and Oppo.
“In 2023, Samsung focused on the mid- to high-end segment for profitability but lost share in the low-end segment and also its leading position in the global market,” said Amber Liu, a manager at Canalys, a research group, which also ranked Apple as the market leader last year in figures released on Tuesday.
Canalys said that smartphone shipments increased about 8 per cent year on year in the fourth quarter, reversing seven consecutive quarters of decline, as demand from holiday shoppers improved.
Apple on Friday lost its position as the world’s most valuable public company to its old rival Microsoft, as Wall Street fretted about the outlook for iPhone sales in China.
Apple’s iPhone sales, however, rebounded 11.6 per cent in the fourth quarter following the September launch of its latest models, according to IDC figures released on Monday.
The rankings of the smartphone market have changed beyond recognition since Samsung took the top spot in 2011, when Nokia, LG and BlackBerry led the market.
As smartphone technology matures and new features become more incremental, consumers are upgrading their everyday devices less frequently than they used to.
But when customers do replace their phones, more are choosing more expensive and capable devices — largely benefiting Apple, which has raised iPhone prices in recent years.
“Apple’s ongoing success and resilience is in large part due to the increasing trend of premium devices, which now represent over 20 per cent of the market, fuelled by aggressive trade-in offers and interest-free financing plans,” said Nabila Popal, research director at IDC.
“While we saw some strong growth from low-end Android players like Transsion and Xiaomi in the second half of 2023, stemming from rapid growth in emerging markets, the biggest winner is clearly Apple,” Popal added.