For the past decade, Apple and Samsung have been the two dominant players in the global smartphone market, but Chinese smartphone brands have been taking a more significant piece of the pie in recent years. So, Who is the King of Smartphones?
Outside China, Xiaomi, Oppo, and Vivo may not be household names, but those Chinese-brand smartphones are powerful, affordable, and increasingly attractive to users for almost anyone around the world.
Who is the King of Smartphones?
In 2020, South Korea’s Samsung earned the top spot for worldwide smartphone shipments, with more than 255 million units sold. Apple came in second with 207 million phones shipped, but Chinese brands like Huawei, Xiaomi, and Oppo grabbed the rest of the top-five slots after shipping over 100 million smartphones that year.
One key reason Chinese-based phones have become so popular is that they come in a wide range of models. Unlike the top brands, Chinese smartphone companies do not just release one or two premium flagship models each year; they also make affordable low-to-mid-range phones with fewer premium features than the flagship models. That affordability has dramatically increased sales of Chinese smartphones, especially those that can support the next-generation 5G networks.
Affordable 5G Smartphones
While the first 5G smartphones were all premium models, Chinese manufacturers have changed the game. In the first quarter of 2020, Xiaomi launched a 5G phone that cost as little as US$300, which was Redmi K30 5G. Other Chinese brands like Oppo, Vivo and Honor also offered affordable 5G phones throughout the year.
Apple and Samsung followed suit after seeing strong sales of the Chinese mid-range 5G phones, but those top brands also struggled to price their phones as low as their Chinese competitors. Apple introduced its first 5G iPhone in the fourth quarter of 2020, and for the first time in its history, Apple released four models to compete with the mid-range to top-end offerings from other brands.
By the end of the fourth quarter of 2020, Apple had shipped 81 million iPhones, while Oppo, Xiaomi, and Vivo combined shipped over 100 million smartphones.
The Flagship Competition
Cheaper models are not the only reason Chinese brands are chipping away at Apple and Samsung’s dominance. Flagship phones from China also have features that can go head to head with iPhones or Samsung’s Galaxy S21 series.
Like the market leaders, Chinese brands introduce new cameras and screen technology to their flagship models every year, but sometimes they introduce new technologies before the main brands do.
When it comes to camera technology, Chinese manufacturers go the extra mile and partner with top photography brands such as Zeiss, Hasselblad, and Leica to develop a professional experience and better image quality.
As for screens, most Chinese smartphones offer sharper displays with a high-refresh-rate providing s smoother scrolling experience, and the Chinese flagship models with price tags close to what the bigger brands charge, users often choose phones with more powerful features and breakthrough designs.
Chinese brands have also led the way with camera or screen technology innovations, including foldable phones. Oppo even came up with the world’s first rollable smartphone, and we have an article about the future smartphones technologies, including rollable smartphones.
This device illustrates how Chinese companies are trying to outpace Apple and Samsung in the race to build next-generation smartphones. Global market leader Samsung does have something in common with Chinese smartphones companies in the way it produces low-to-mid-range models at competitive prices. Samsung has also pushed innovations, including foldable handsets, one of the latest trends in the smartphones market.
These brands are not all smooth sailing. Growth rates for some Chinese smartphone brands have slowed after some governments raised security concerns about their devices. In 2019, the US raised concerns about Huawei technologies and products being used for espionage by China. Though Washington offered no hard evidence, and Huawei denied the allegations, American businesses were banned from doing business with the Chinese company.
As a result, Huawei phones are restricted from using Google apps, a huge blow to the company’s software ecosystem. Huawei saw a massive drop in smartphone sales outside of China in 2020.
Smartphones of last year
Despite these hurdles, other Chinese smartphone brands continue to become more popular and have overshadowed some of the best-known mobile phone brands of the past, including HTC, Sony, Nokia, LG, and Motorola. LG recently announced it is getting out of the mobile phone business altogether.
So, Who is the King of Smartphones? Let’s clarify that Chinese smartphones have come a long way since the days when ‘’made in China’’ devices were synonymous with being cheap and unreliable. Over the years, they have connected with savvy consumers who favour value-for-money phones and, as a result, are giving more-established brands a run for their money. We think Xiaomi has come a long way with its wide product range, and it might be the king of smartphones. What do you think about it?