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Global smartphone shipments grow for the first time in four years

Demand for the first 5G-enabled iPhone saw first positive shift for the market since 2017

The iPhone 13 back cover

Global smartphone shipments has grown for the first time in four years with 1.39 billion handsets sold around the world in 2021.

Annual shipments increased 4% year-on-year, despite the effects of the pandemic and the global chip shortage, according to Checkpoint Research.

However, the number of shipments was still below pre-pandemic levels, with 1.56 billion handset sales in 2017, according to Checkpoint data. The market saw a sharp decline in 2018 (-4.1%) with consumer demand continuing to stall throughout 2019.

Checkpoint suggests that "pent-up" demand in South America and India has helped the market recover, along with demand for 5G-enabled devices in North America.

"Growth in the US was driven largely by demand for Apple's first 5G-enabled iPhone 12 series seeping through to the first quarter of 2021," Harmeet Singh Walia, senior analyst at Counterpoint Research, said in a statement.

The demand for the iPhone 12 continued through the year with strong October and December performance thanks holiday promotions like Black Friday, Walia added. Apple also reported record market share growth in China for Q4, becoming the top brand in the country. Its global smartphones sales also shot up 18% year-on-year.

Samsung still remains the dominant smartphone provider, shipping 271 million devices in 2021, but the biggest sales percentage increase was owned by Chinese brand Xiaomi, which has successfully capitalised on the demise of Huawei. Xiaomi is now the third-ranked manufacturer with a 31% year-on-year increase.

It's worth noting that China saw a 10% fall in demand in 2018; at the time IDC stated that it accounted for roughly 30% of the overall market. While there is an uptick globally, China remains somewhat sluggish, with Checkpoint data suggesting it saw a 2% drop, year-on-year. This is attributed to the ongoing semiconductor shortages, which are hindering manufacturing and its repair businesses.

"The market recovery could have been even better if not for the component shortages that impacted much of the second half of 2021," Walia added. "The major brands navigated the component shortages comparatively better and hence managed to grow by gaining share from long-tail brands."

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