Smartphone shipments fell in China for the first time during 2017, dropping 4% compared to 2016 to 459 million units.
Research firm Canalys noted that the fourth quarter was notably weak, with a 14% year-on-year fall in shipments. 113 million devices were shipped during the quarter, which was one of the worst ever in China. The country is the world’s largest smartphone market.
Huawei had one of its best ever years in China, with shipments up by 9% year-on-year to over 24 million units, allowing it to retain its lead in its home market. For the whole year, Huawei shipped 90 million devices.
Second and third-placed vendors Oppo and Vivo saw their shipments down by 16% and 7% respectively, while Apple surpassed Xiaomi to take fourth place. The Chinese vendor, which claimed the top spot for the year in India, sold 13 million units in Q4.
Canalys research analyst Mo Jia said: “Huawei’s push into tier-three and tier-four cities has yielded positive results. Nova and Honor have successfully gained share from smaller vendors, such as Gionee and Meizu. Honor’s performance has complemented Huawei’s success, by contributing more than half of Huawei’s total shipments. But competition between Huawei and Honor is getting fierce, and Huawei must deal with possible internal cannibalisation.”
While Oppo and Vivo had a shaky Q4, both saw double digit growth for the whole year. Jia noted that “the market has slowed faster than expected. Being aware of inventory issues, both vendors have set up flagship stores in tier-one cities to boost their branding and drive value growth. Failure to drive footfall, however, will threaten Oppo and Vivo’s ongoing channel transformation and render the exercise futile.”
Hattie He, another research analyst at Canalys, noted that poor performance in their home market would threaten smaller Chinese vendors, saying: “It will affect their cashflow and profitability, limiting overseas expansion and bringing into question future survival. The threat to vendors such as Gionee and Meizu is now closer than ever.”
She noted that stronger players such as ZTE and Lenovo were turning their attention back towards China, making competition even fiercer. “The leading players will make aggressive plans to maintain or grow their market share. We can expect a major market shake-up in China in 2018.”