For the first time ever, Apple could be the top global smartphone manufacturer for a full year

For the first time ever, Apple could be the top global smartphone manufacturer for a full year

The global smartphone market is scuffling along at a ten-year low and Counterpoint Research expects shipments of the device to fall 6% year-over-year to 1.15 billion handsets this year. While lower smartphone shipments for the entire industry would obviously impact Apple, the iPhone manufacturer is in position to do something it has never done before. According to Counterpoint, Apple is in a position to lead the industry in shipments worldwide during an entire year for the first time ever.

Major smartphone research firm says Apple could be the top smartphone manufacturer for a full year for the first time

Not all markets will be red hot during the remainder of 2023. Counterpoint says that it expects the Asian market to be one of the regions that will block growth in the smartphone industry during the rest of the year. The research firm wrote, “Asia is one of the major hurdles to positive growth, as headwinds halt the economic turnaround anticipated for China at the start of the year, and the broader region experiences intensifying declines across emerging markets.”

China is still the top smartphone market in the world and while its annual smartphone purchases peaked at 450 million units, annual sales have now been in the 270 million per year area which has helped give momentum to the decline in the global smartphone market. North America had a disappointing first half according to Counterpoint with the continent set up for a double-digit full-year drop in phone shipments. “Despite strength in the jobs market and inflation falling, consumers are hesitant to upgrade their devices, pushing replacement rates for the U.S. and globally to record highs,” Counterpoint said.

Despite the overall weakness in the industry, the higher-priced premium segment of the smartphone market is holding up better. Add to that the large number of iPhone 12 users in position to upgrade for the first time since they bought their current devices, and the response to the iPhone 15 launch could catapult Apple past Samsung for all of 2023. 

Counterpoint research director Jeff Fieldhack said, “But we’re watching Q4 (fourth quarter) with interest because the iPhone 15 launch is a window for carriers to steal high-value customers. And with that big iPhone 12 installed base up for grabs promos are going to be aggressive, leaving Apple in a good spot.”

Even though Samsung has been the top shipper of smartphones for years, and was at the top for the second quarter, Counterpoint says that this could be the year that the iPhone actually takes over the top spot. However, the one thing that could stop Apple’s momentum, production cuts, is reportedly taking place.

Counterpoint says the reception to the iPhone 15 will determine whether Apple tops Samsung for all of 2023

Counterpoint’s Fieldhack says, “It’s the closest Apple’s been to the top spot. We’re talking about a spread that’s literally a few days’ worth of sales,” the analyst said. “Assuming Apple doesn’t run into production problems like it did last year, it’s really a toss-up at this point.” But alas, analyst Jeff Pu told clients the other day that he is forecasting a 7.2% cut in production of the iPhone 15 line for the rest of this year from 83 million units to 77 million.

The forecast production cut doesn’t mean that Apple will now be unable to beat out Samsung for the top spot this year. Actually, Counterpoint’s Chauhan says, “The reception of the iPhone 15 and growth in non-core iPhone markets will decide if Apple surpasses Samsung at the full-year level or not.”

Despite the excitement surrounding the iPhone when the device was first unveiled, during the fourth quarter of 2009, Nokia (38.6%) was still the top smartphone manufacturer followed by BlackBerry (19.9%) and Apple (16.1%). It wasn’t until the third quarter of 2011 that Samsung took over the top spot and has stayed there, for the most part, ever since. However, during the second quarter of 2020, Huawei had a slight lead over Samsung. But with the U.S. restrictions against Huawei kicking in, Samsung recaptured the top spot the next quarter where it stayed until last year’s Q4.

During the fourth quarter of 2022, Apple was the top smartphone manufacturer in the world and enjoyed its largest global market share of all time at 25%. Since then, Samsung has recaptured the lead and Apple had a 16% slice of the global smartphone pie during Q2 of 2023. If Counterpoint is right, Apple could reclaim leadership by the end of this year’s fourth quarter.

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