Smartphones dropped again in 2019 and now face coronavirus woes

Apple iPhone 11
Apple iPhones finished 2019 in third place globally behind Samsung and Huawei, but analysts are worried that the coronavirus outbreak that first occurred in China could cause supply chain delays for smartphone makers. (Apple)

Global smartphone volumes were on the uptick last summer, but fell back again in the fall, declining by 2.2% for all of 2019 compared to 2018.

That decline occurred before the coronavirus outbreak first hit China in mid-January. Analysts at IHS Markit technology research, a part of Informa Tech, and at IDC said Apple and other smartphone makers will face supply chain challenges into 2020 that could disrupt overall shipments.

That supply chain impact will come even as cheaper chips for 5G smartphones emerge. Many smartphone chips are fabricated in Taiwan and China, and major Chinese cities are taking steps to contain the virus, which could prevent workers from reporting to their jobs.

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IHS Markit firm reported that 1.38 billion smartphones were shipped by various vendors in 2019, down from 1.41 billion in 2018. The decline was slightly less than the 2.4% decline from 2017 to 2018, however.

IDC's numbers were similar for all of 2019, but IDC found Apple took the top spot globally in the fourth quarter, reaching 73.8 million iPhones. 

IHS Markit said Apple only shipped 67.7 million in the fourth quarter, behind Samsung at 70.7 million.

The fourth quarter totals declined by 1.5% from that quarter a year earlier, with 359.2 million units shipped in 2019 compared to 364.8 million in fourth quarter 2018.

South Korea’s Samsung led in shipments in 2019 and 2018, with 294.8 million units shipping in 2019, up by 1.7% from 289.9 million in 2018.

China’s Huawei finished second, pegging an increase of 16.7% in 2019 with 240.6 million units, up from 206.1 million in 2018.

Huawei seemed to be the biggest victim of a U.S.-China trade war, as its fourth quarter was down by 7.4% year-over-year after three quarters of significant growth, said Jusy Hong, smartphone research analysis director.

The U.S. has granted licenses to some U.S. businesses to continue selling products to Huawei, but not Google so far. That means Huawei is on its own for many commonly used Google applications.

In markets like Western Europe, “the lack of Google services will make Huawei phones a hard sell for consumers,” said Anna Ahrens, senior analyst.

Apple had a good fourth quarter of 2019 after two years of declines and finished third for the entire year. The iPhone maker shipped 67.7 million iPhones in the fourth quarter of 2019, up from 54.3 million shipped in the fourth quarter of 2018 and up from 46.2 million shipped in the third quarter of 2019.

In addition to the impact of the coronavirus on the smartphone supply chain, IHS said tensions between the U.S. and Huawei will continue to linger and have an impact on the overall market.

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