China suffered its first ever annual smartphone decline, with shipments down 4% from 2016 to 459 million units in 2017, Canalys research indicates. This drop was partly due to China having one of its worst year-on-year performances in Q4 2017, with shipments plummeting by over 14% to just under 113 million units.
Huawei grew shipments by 9% against the overall market decline, shipping more than 24 million smartphones and staying on top. Shipments fell for both Oppo and Vivo, by 16% and 7% respectively, but they held onto their respective second- and third-place positions. Oppo shipped 19 million smartphones, while Vivo shipped 17 million. Apple overtook Xiaomi to take fourth place, pushing Xiaomi back to fifth with 13 million units.
Huawei had its best ever quarter in its home market, shipping more than 24 million smartphones in Q4, to reach a total of 90 million in 2017. “Huawei’s push into tier-three and tier-four cities has yielded positive results,” said Canalys Research Analyst Mo Jia.
“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,” Jia added. “But competition between Huawei and Honor is getting fierce, and Huawei must deal with possible internal cannibalization.”
Despite the dip in Q4, Oppo and Vivo both saw double-digit annual growth in 2017, according to Canalys. “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,” said Jia. “Failure to drive footfall, however, will threaten Oppo and Vivo’s ongoing channel transformation and render the exercise futile.”
Canalys Research Analyst Hattie He said the declining Chinese market will have a “detrimental impact” on those Chinese vendors that have been heavily replying on their home market. “It will affect their cash flow and profitability, limiting overseas expansion and bringing into question future survival,” He said.
With Lenovo and ZTE refocusing on the Chinese market in 2018, competition will intensify among vendors outside the top five. “There is little room left for the smaller vendors,” said He. “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.”