Apple’s iPhone saw the worst quarterly decline since first quarter of 2016

Global sales of smartphones to end users stalled in the fourth quarter of 2018, totaling 408.4 million units — growth of just 0.1% over the fourth quarter of 2017, according to the Gartner, Inc. research group. Apple recorded its worst quarterly decline (11.8%) since the first quarter of 2016.

“Demand for entry-level and midprice smartphones remained strong across markets, but demand for high-end smartphones continued to slow in the fourth quarter of 2018,” says Anshul Gupta, senior research director at Gartner. “Slowing incremental innovation at the high end, coupled with price increases, deterred replacement decisions for high-end smartphones. This led to a flat-growth market in the fourth quarter of 2018.”

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Sales of Apple iPhones hit 64.5 million units in the fourth quarter of 2018, a decline of 11.8% year-over-year, he adds. This double-digit decline made Apple experience the biggest decline in growth for the quarter among the top five global smartphone vendors. 

Gartner says Apple saw iPhone demand weaken in most regions, except North America and mature Asia/Pacific. Apple’s sales declined most in Greater China, where its market share dropped to 8.8% in the fourth quarter of 2018 from 14.6% in the corresponding quarter of 2017. For 2018 as a whole, iPhone sales were down 2.7% to just over 209 million units.

“Apple has to deal not only with buyers delaying upgrades as they wait for more innovative smartphones, but it also continues to face compelling high-price and midprice smartphone alternatives from Chinese vendors. Both these challenges limit Apple’s unit sales growth prospects,” adds Gupta.

At the high end, Samsung smartphones such as the Galaxy S9, S9+ and Note9 struggled to drive growth in the fourth quarter of 2018. In the midtier, Xiaomi and Huawei continued to grab more market share. As a result, Samsung’s smartphone sales declined by 4.4% in the fourth quarter of 2018. Samsung lost market share in Greater China, Western Europe and Latin America, which contributed greatly to an overall 8.2% fall in its smartphone sales in 2018.

“Although Samsung is strengthening its smartphone offering at the midtier, it continues to face growing competition from Chinese brands that are expanding into more markets. It also faces difficulty bringing significant innovation to high-end smartphones,” says Gupta. “Samsung introduced new midtier-focused M series smartphones in the first quarter of 2019 to compete with aggressive Chinese manufacturers in emerging markets, and to expand into the online sales channel.”