With ongoing innovation, disruption, and competition among the top competitors, the smartphone market is one of the most dynamic and competitive in the world. For the past decade, Samsung has been the undisputed king of the smartphone market, dominating both in terms of shipments and revenues.
The last time a company other than Samsung dominated the smartphone market was in 2010. But in 2023, a historic change happened as Apple overtook Samsung to take the top spot for the first time ever, largely due to its impressive fourth-quarter results and the release of new iPhone models.
Although there are still obstacles facing the global smartphone market, things are rapidly starting to turn around. In this article, we will analyze how Apple achieved this feat, what it means for the smartphone industry, and what challenges and opportunities lie ahead for Apple, Samsung, and other mobile brands in the market.
2023 Global Smartphone Ranking and Market Dynamics
According to the latest global market research from Canalys and IDC, Apple grabbed the top spot in the smartphone market in 2023, along with a record-high market share. In the fourth quarter of 2023, worldwide smartphone shipments surged by 8%, reaching an impressive 320 million units. Apple emerged as the leader with a commanding 24% share, propelled by the success of its latest iPhone launches.
For the full year of 2023, global smartphone shipments reached 1.1 billion units, experiencing a 4% decrease from the previous year. Despite this overall decline, Apple managed to surpass Samsung in annual shipments, with both giants rounding up to 20% market shares.
Xiaomi, OPPO, and TRANSSION secured 13%, 9%, and 8% shares, respectively. The International Data Corporation (IDC) reported a 3.2% year-over-year decline in global smartphone shipments for 2023, attributing it to macroeconomic challenges and elevated inventory early in the year.
Canalys Senior Analyst Toby Zhu highlights the positive direction of the market, saying: “The market is heading in the right direction, aided by improved holiday season demand,” said Toby Zhu. “Products in the mid-to-low-end price range are the growth drivers in this recovery wave, helped by a rebound in demand in emerging markets, such as the Middle East and Africa, Asia Pacific and Latin America.
Meanwhile, with inventory pressure and global inflation continuing to ease, vendors can finally focus on product innovation and long-term strategy developments, laying down solid foundations for the year ahead. There have already been plenty of new flagship Android launches taking advantage of the on-device AI trend, from Google Pixel and several Chinese vendors, such as HONOR, OPPO, Vivo and Xiaomi.”
How Apple Dethroned Samsung in the 2023’s Smartphone Race
Despite facing increased regulatory challenges and resurgent competition from Huawei in China, Apple’s growth trajectory remains positive. Apple’s success, according to Nabila Popal, research director at IDC, can be attributed to the growing trend of premium devices, which now account for over 20% of the market.
“While we saw some strong growth from low-end Android players like Transsion and Xiaomi in the second half of 2023, stemming from rapid growth in emerging markets, the biggest winner is clearly Apple,” said Nabila Popal. “Not only is Apple the only player in the Top 3 to show positive growth annually, but also bags the number 1 spot annually for the first time ever. All this despite facing increased regulatory challenges and renewed competition from Huawei in China, its largest market. Apple’s ongoing success and resilience is in large part due to the increasing trend of premium devices, which now represent over 20% of the market, fueled by aggressive trade-in offers and interest-free financing plans.”
The Market analysts reported that Apple delivered 223.8 million iPhones in 2023, up 10.9% from 201.8 million in 2022, and that the company now holds a 20% market share for smartphones worldwide, up from 18% in 2022. Comparatively, Samsung delivered 217.7 million smartphones in 2023 as opposed to 254.8 million in 2022, a 14.6% decline, and suffered a decline in its market share to 19% from 23% in 2022.
Apple’s success in 2023 was largely driven by its strong performance in the fourth quarter, when it shipped 81.8 million iPhones, a 22.2% increase from 66.9 million in the same quarter of 2022, and captured a 24% share of the global smartphone market, up from 19% in Q4 2022. Samsung, meanwhile, shipped 62.5 million smartphones in Q4 2023, an 11.8% decrease from 70.9 million in Q4 2022, and saw its market share drop to 17%, down from 20% in Q4 2022.
What It Means for the Smartphone Industry
Apple’s ascent to the top of the smartphone market in 2023 is a critical turning point for the business as well as the sector, as it signifies a change in the balance of power and power dynamics among the major participants. In addition to proving Apple’s tenacity and adaptability in the face of a difficult and shifting industry, it validates the company’s creativity and strategy.
For Samsung, it is a wake-up call and a challenge, as it faces increased competition and pressure from both Apple and other Android players. For the smartphone industry, it is a sign of diversification and differentiation, as well as a catalyst for further growth and development.
Ryan Reith, group vice president with IDC’s Worldwide Mobility and Consumer Device Trackers, emphasizes the evolving dynamics within the smartphone market, saying:
“The overall shift in ranking at the top of the market further highlights the intensity of competition within the smartphone market,” said Ryan Reith. “Apple certainly played a part in Samsung’s drop in rank, but the overall Android space is diversifying within itself. Huawei is back and making inroads quickly within China, Brands like OnePlus, Honor, Google, and others are launching very competitive devices in the lower price range of the high end. And foldable and increased discussions around AI capabilities on the smartphone are gaining traction. Overall, the smartphone space is headed towards a very interesting time.”
The smartphone market in 2023 was a year of change and challenge, as well as a year of opportunity and growth. Apple emerged as the top smartphone vendor for the first time ever, which is not just a triumph for the tech giant but also a reflection of the dynamic and ever-evolving nature of the global smartphone landscape. Samsung lost its crown to Apple but remained a strong contender and a formidable rival. As the industry looks towards 2024, the interplay of innovation, competition, and market dynamics will continue to shape the future of smartphones.