As the Smartphone Market is undergoing a Huge Tectonic Shift in Leadership, 2019 could be a Disruptive Year to Remember
While the talk in the techland is that China smartphone sales have slowed, they haven't for China's top OEMs Huawei, Vivo, OPPO and Xiaomi. The top three OEM's grew 4 to 13% year over year in Q3. While Xiaomi fell 1% in China, they've skyrocketed in India and globally registered 25% growth. While China's top smartphone OEMs grew, Apple dropped in China by 17% in Q3 while being flat on a global scale. For Samsung, Q3 was not kind to them in China, falling by a jaw-dropping 67% as Counterpoint's report chart below confirms. The smartphone industry is undergoing a tectonic shift in leadership that has only really begun. Momentum indicates that as Chinese OEMs flex their muscle around the globe, they will overwhelmingly dominate the industry that was once owned by Apple and Samsung.
China's top smartphone OEM's are beginning to offer Apple and Samsung-like premium features but selling their phones at half price. Their winning marketing approach is connecting with consumers around the globe that are fed up with smartphones in the $1000 to $1500 price range.
James Yan, Research Director at Counterpoint stated in a report this week that "Fierce competition among local players in the mid-to-affordable premium market has forced key local players to continuously improve their offering and roll out advanced features that are more akin to premium level smartphones. AI-powered processors, bezel-less screens, dual or triple cameras and faster screen-unlock are some of the key selling points that smartphone OEMs have marketed aggressively in their products across different price bands."
For Q4 Chinese OEM Huawei introduced reverse-wireless-charging and under-the-display biometrics while still offering 3D-Face recognition. While Apple has patent-pending reverse-wireless charging technology in the wings, it's Huawei that brought this innovation to market first.
While Apple says that they don't care about being first, of course they do. That's why they made Face ID the driving feature on iPhone X; it's why they made such a big deal about the MacBook Pro's 'Touch Bar' even though many fans were bored with it out of the starting gate. Key features first to market do count and reverse-wireless charging is a great feature introduced by a Chinese OEM.
Recently Xiaomi introduced the low-ball $300 smartphone in China that famed Marques Brownlee thought was a real winner for the price while providing it with a copycat iPhone X look. Unbox Therapy said it's the phone of the year signifying a real change in the industry delivering decent specifications at an affordable price.
In the mid-range they just introduced the Mi Mix 3 with a whopping 6.9" display and a slide-to-hide camera so as to enable full display notch free viewing of content. They also introduced a 5500mAh battery so that users can actually get a full day's usage without having to recharge once.
As Chinese OEM's have beaten Apple to market with meaningful features at half the price or less, it's no wonder that those OEMs that once followed Apple are now stepping out of Apple's shadow and impressing the local market with the message that times have changed and that Chinese OEM can confidently compete and surpass the iconic iPhone. Industry statistics are showing that this message is winning at an accelerated pace. It could also be why Apple is slowing down the pace of opening new Flagship Apple Stores in China.
Apple fully understands this trend is here to stay, especially in China. So announcing that starting this holiday quarter they won't report iPhone unit data should be seen by Chinese OEMs that they have defeated Apple in China soundly. Was the timing of Apple's announcement sheer Coincidence? Of course it wasn't.
On Friday, Counterpoint posted a second report titled "Oppo, Xiaomi and Vivo Reached Their Highest Ever Shipments in a Single Quarter, Despite a Global Slowdown." The report's chart shown below allows us to see that while Samsung fell 13% and Apple was flat for the quarter, Huawei charged full steam ahead with 33% growth and Xiaomi 25% globally and neither of these Chinese vendors are in the U.S. market yet.
The U.S. government made sure of that by keeping Huawei out of its market. If AT&T would have been able to begin selling Huawei smartphones for the holiday quarter, Huawei would have been able to become the new smartphone champ globally. In the big picture, the momentum is on their side.
In a Reuter's report yesterday titled "India iPhone sales to fall for first time in four years: researcher," a Counterpoint analyst told Reuters that "Apple’s iPhone sales are set to dip by around a quarter in India’s holiday season fourth quarter, putting them on course for the first full-year fall in four years.
"Apple's struggle to break through with India’s 1.3 billion consumers swung more sharply into focus this week after Apple blamed a disappointing set of sales forecasts on a handful of big emerging markets."
Reuters noted that "Chief Executive Tim Cook said after publishing third quarter results that sales were flat in India in the fourth quarter, which includes a month-long festive season culminating this week in Diwali - a bumper period for electronics sales.
For the whole of 2018, Apple was set to sell about 2 million phones - a drop of about a million from last year, he said, as Indians balk at high prices for the devices, driven by trade tariffs and a weak rupee.
Neil Shah, research director at Hong Kong-based Counterpoint Research added that "Apple's iPhones have gone costlier and the features and specs aren’t that compelling. The install base of android has grown vastly; the new customer base (for Apple) is not coming." Ouch.
The last set of questions given to Tim Cook and Luca Maestri during their Financial Conference Call on Thursday was from an analyst at Citigroup who asked about India and Apple's decision to stop announcing iPhone units.
Citigroup Question: Operationally, Tim, I think your company is at a disadvantage relative to others in India, giving where items are produced versus shipped versus taxed versus installed as well as ability to own stores. So can you help us address that? Is India going to potentially be a big area … I think you've got about only 1% market share but it sounded like things may be softer there.
Apple's CEO Tim Cook's response regarding India: "We've had great productive discussions with the Indian government and I fully expect that at some point they will agree to allow us to bring our stores into the country. We've been in discussions with them and the discussions are going quite well. There is as you point out there are import duties in some … most of the product categories that we're in, ah, ah, in some cases they compound and this is an area that we're giving a lot of feedback on. Um, ah, we do manufacture some of the entry iPhones in India and that project has gone well. Ah, I am a big believer in India. I am very bullish on the country and the people and our ability to do well there. The currency weakness has been part of our challenger there as you can tell from just looking at the currency trend. But, but I sort of view these as speed bumps along a very long journey though and that the long term I think is very-very strong there. There are a huge number of people that will move into the middle class. The government has really focused on reform in a major way – and have made some very bold moves and I applaud them for doing that and sort of can't wait for the future there."
I was taken aback by the fact that Apple is still stuck in talks with the Indian government about opening Flagship Apple Stores. Little Xiaomi now has dozens of tiny Applesque stores in India with the goal of having 100 by the end of 2018. China's Oppo has been given the green light to open Flagship stores in India. So what's with Apple being at the back of the line?
Well, with Samsung opening the world's biggest mobile plant in the world in India this summer with support for a homegrown local Indian eco-system, India's government really couldn't care less about Apple's big demands and taking about it taking a decade or more to move some of their ecosystem partners to India.
With Samsung delivering big time for India's Prime Minister Modi to bring jobs to India, Apple's sway in India is zero. India is 99% Android and with Chinese OEMs delivering great features at half the price of iPhones for Indian consumers, Apple is unlikely to do well, even with the middle class. Apple's iPhones just don't have advantages that are miles ahead of the competition like they once had. And with Apple wanting to only cherry pick from the middle class, it's a form of snobbery Indian consumers don't appreciate. Chinese OEMs are will to pull up their sleeves and design a phone for the Indian market at prices consumers can afford.
For die-hard Apple fans in the U.S. there really isn't an alternative. Apple fans will continue to be iPhone fans regardless of price or new competition. With Samsung's smartphone sales falling a whopping 67% in China, it's Samsung that the Chinese vendors are going to destroy. If Huawei and Xiaomi ever enter the U.S. market, it's Samsung that will take a beating not Apple.
In Europe it's another matter. Apple is likely to slide in many European markets as Chinese OEM's go beyond their local boarders and aggressively into Europe and emerging markets.
There will be one smaller 4.58" display on the outside of the foldable smartphone and a single larger inside display that when opened will be like a mini tablet with a 7.29" display. The Korea Herald report further claimed that the displays are now in production.
Samsung is hoping that this new folding phone could provide them with a boost in their overall turnaround plan for 2019. But unlike the past, Samsung's competitor Huawei isn’t going to allow Samsung to get too large a lead. Huawei is claiming that they have a similar form factor in the works for 2019.
The smartphone market is being challenged at every level and new form factors and smartphones with 5G modems in 2019 will cause a huge ripple effect that could create a much larger upgrade cycle for every OEM.
Apple's smartphone world is shrinking and Apple is trying to reinvent their business model with services to sustain growth. Apple may create a new entertainment bundle next year with Apple Music and Apple TV content under one price and that could be huge for their 2019 bottom line.
2019 is going to be a disruptive year for the smartphone market and no one can predict who the winners will be at this point. Critics writing Apple off because they won't be reporting unit data would be making a huge mistake.
At the end of the day, hold on tight like a good roller coaster ride because Q4 2019 could be a wild ride like it was in 2007 when Apple launched their original iPhone. Apple's iPhone was disruptive and reset the entire smartphone industry for more than a decade.
The changes coming to market in 2019 could have a likewise effect and potentially rock the market and put it on a whole new course for the next decade.