Huawei overtakes Apple in global smartphone market for the first time

Gelo Gonzales

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Huawei overtakes Apple in global smartphone market for the first time
The Chinese giant moves to second place in sales race, outselling Apple in June and July 2017 according to research firm Counterpoint

MANILA, Philippines – Huawei topped Apple in smartphone market share for the first time in history, according to industry research firm Counterpoint on Tuesday, September 5. 

Selling more smartphones in June and July 2017 than Apple, Huawei squeaked by to be world’s second largest phone brand, behind Samsung. Counterpoint released the graph below to indicate market share movement for the past two years:

SHARE PERCENTAGE. The top 3 smartphone makers in terms of sales are shown in this line graph. Chart from Counterpoint

Evidently, Samsung still enjoys a healthy lead, with a market share of 20% while Huawei and Apple hover at around 10 to 12%. In the time period, Huawei came close in about the same time period last year but didn’t quite make the cut. 

Notably, the gap between the two was blown wide open in September 2016, when Apple launched the iPhone 7. Apple is set to reveal the iPhone 8 on September 12, US time, which tells observers: Huawei’s time at second spot may be done sooner rather than later. (READ: 20 rumored specs and features of the next iPhone)

Meanwhile, Samsung has consistently been in the top spot, bowing out only twice to its toughest competitor Apple in December 2015 and 2016. 

Growth insights

Counterpoint offered some key insights behind this positive development for Huawei. 

The firm’s research director Peter Richardson attributed the brand’s growth to consistent investments in R&D and manufacturing, and “aggressive” marketing and sales channel expansion. 

However, Richardson also sees a few roadblocks to Huawei sustainably securing a spot over Apple or maybe even Samsung. He said that Huawei is overly dependent on home market China, Europe, Latin America and Middle East, and weak in South Asia, India, and North America. 

Another key issue for Counterpoint: Huawei lacks a real “hero” device or a definitive, instantly identifiable flagship device that could bring brand recognition. Huawei’s smartphone strategy is to gun for a wide range of models tailor-made for different sectors in the market. While that allows them to tap a wide market, it doesn’t help build overall brand recognition that could further solidify their place in consumers’ minds, said the report. (READ: Huawei flagships P10 priced at P28,990, P10 Plus at P36,990)

Senior analyst Pavel Naiya illustrates this by providing data on the top ten best-selling phone models for July 2017:

1 – Apple iPhone 7
2 – Apple iPhone 7 Plus
3 – OPPO R11
4 – OPPO A57
5 – Samsung Galaxy S8
6 – Xiaomi Redmi Note 4X
7 – Samsung Galaxy S8+
8 – Apple iPhone 6 (32GB)
9 – Samsung J7 Prime
10 – Samsung Galaxy A5 2017

No Huawei phone makes it to the top 10. “While Huawei has trimmed its portfolio, it likely needs to further streamline its product range like Oppo and Xiaomi have done – putting more muscle behind fewer products,” said the analyst. (READ: Huawei takes aim at Samsung Note 8 with #beyondthegalaxy posts)

But make no mistake, Huawei’s growth and that of other China brands are no fluke, and is a trend that “no player in the mobile ecosystem can ignore,” said Counterpoint associate director, Tarun Pathak.

“Chinese brands with their dominant position in key markets such as China, Europe, Asia and Latin America have restricted the growth prospects for leading global brands such as Samsung and Apple. Chinese brands are growing swiftly thanks not only to smartphone design, manufacturing capability and rich feature sets, but also by out-smarting and out-spending rivals in sales channels, go-to-market and marketing promotion strategies,” he finished.

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Gelo Gonzales

Gelo Gonzales is Rappler’s technology editor. He covers consumer electronics, social media, emerging tech, and video games.