The holiday quarter of 2016 capped off another positive year of smartphone growth despite concerns about the overall market slowing. According to preliminary data from the International Data Corporation (IDC) Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker, smartphone vendors shipped a total of 428.5 million units during the fourth quarter of 2016 (4Q16), resulting in 6.9% growth when compared to the 400.7 million units shipped in the final quarter of 2015. For the full year, the worldwide smartphone market saw a total of 1.47 billion units shipped, marking the highest year of shipments on record, yet up only 2.3% from the 1.44 billion units shipped in 2015. Large markets like China, the United States, and Brazil all ended the year on a strong note helping to keep worldwide volumes in positive territory.
"There's no question that 2016 marked a memorable year for the smartphone industry in many ways," said Ryan Reith, program vice president with IDC's Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Device Trackers. "This was a year that brought us the first down year for iPhone, yet Apple closed out the holiday quarter by surpassing Samsung for the top spot in the smartphone industry. We also witnessed year-over-year declines in some emerging regions like the Middle East and Latin America where high growth was expected. To round it all off, we now have a three horse race at the top of the market as Huawei cracked the double-digit share mark for the first time ever."
Despite the changes that 2016 brought upon the market, including annual growth dropping from 10.4% in 2015 to just 2.3% in 2016, IDC expects a few turnarounds in 2017. First, IDC is forecasting a rebound in iPhone shipments with the yet to be announced tenth anniversary iPhone. Second, the Middle East and Africa (MEA) and Latin America regions are expected to return to growth in 2017. And, as a result of the aforementioned as well as several other driving factors, growth in 2017 should improve slightly from 2016's results.
"As the two leading players continue to battle for the top spot, several Chinese vendors have solidified their position as valid contenders," said Anthony Scarsella, research manager with IDC's Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker. "The top three Chinese vendors (Huawei, OPPO, and vivo) are persistently applying pressure on Samsung within China thanks to a vast portfolio of affordable, well-built devices. Not only is this pressure coming at the low-end, but high-end devices like the P9, Mate 8, R9s, and XPlay6 haven proven viable options for consumers looking to upgrade or save money without sacrificing quality. However, it is worth noting that despite the success of these brands within China, they will need to find growth beyond their home turf to eventually knock off either Samsung or Apple at the top."
Apple reclaimed the top spot thanks largely to the success of the new iPhone 7 and 7 Plus. Despite a strong fourth quarter, 2016 marked the first full year of declining shipments for the iPhone with a 7% year-over-year drop. Apple shipped a record 78.3 million units in the fourth quarter, up 4.7% from the same quarter one year ago. Although the iPhone 7 did not feature a drastically different industrial design from its predecessor, it did bring yet another significantly improved processor, more robust camera, water resistance, and new color/finish options. Much like Samsung, all eyes will be on Apple's next flagship, and all signs point to something very special for the tenth anniversary of this iconic product.
Samsung dropped to second in the worldwide smartphone market with shipments declining 5.2% compared to last year. The Korean giant shipped 77.5 million units in 4Q16, down from the 81.7 million units shipped last holiday quarter. On the year, Samsung shipped 311.4 million smartphones worldwide, which was down 3% from the 320.9 million shipments in 2015. Despite the Note 7 debacle and growing pressure from Chinese vendors, Samsung still managed to find success with its S7 and popular J-series of devices in numerous markets. The challenging holiday quarter, however, did bring its worldwide market share below 20% for the first time in over four years, leaving no better time for the pending arrival of its next flagship product, the Galaxy S8.