Smartphones plummet 20% with COVID-19; 8% drop for Apple

Smartphone sales dived 20% in the first quarter as people sheltered in place with COVID-19 and manufacturing plants in China were temporarily shuttered. Apple did a little better than average, down 8%. (Getty Images)

Smartphone sales crashed by 20% in the first quarter globally--their worst decline ever—because of COVID-19, analyst firm Gartner reported Monday.

Consumers stopped spending on nonessential products during the first quarter as they sheltered in place, Gartner said. 

Apple and most Chinese phone makers were also severely impacted by temporary shutdowns of smartphone factories in China.

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Apple saw an 8% decline in sales, dropping from 44.5 million smartphones sold in first quarter 2019 to nearly 40.1 million in first quarter 2020.  Apple held a 12% market share.

“If COVID-19 did not happen, Apple would have likely seen its iPhone sales reach record levels in the quarter,” said Gartner research Annette Zimmermann.

Ironically, Apple’s iPhone 11 was the most popular single smartphone style by far in the first quarter, with 19.5 million shipped to retailers, according to analyst firm Omdia in an earlier report.

RELATED: iPhone 11 has no 5G but tops other smartphones by a mile

The biggest market share of 19% was held by Samsung, which saw a decline in smartphones sold to 55.3 million units, a reduction of nearly 23%.

Samsung was spared from doing worse because it has manufacturing facilities outside of China, with a limited retail presence there, analyst Anshul Gupta said in a statement.

Huawei had second largest market share with 14%, ahead of Apple in third. Huawei lost 27% in units of smartphones sold in the first quarter, reaching 42.5 million.

Among all smartphone makers, total sales for the quarter reached 299.1 million, down rom 374.9 million in the year earlier quarter.

Gartner last week said that smartphone shipments will decline nearly 14% in 2020 to total 1.3 billion units shipped. 

Even before COVID-19, consumers were lengthening the amount of time they held onto smartphones, said Tuong Nguyen, senior analyst at Gartner, in an email to FierceElectronics. 

“Uncertainty around job and income security will further lengthen this [buying] cycle,” Nguyen said.  “It will make consumers much more judicious about their spending and those that do decide to replace their device will likely be more price sensitive than they previously were. The uncertainly is also reflected from the supply side, as some smartphone vendors have suspended guidance for Q2.”

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