iPhone 15 Pro Max

Samsung Has Been Dethroned by Apple as the Top Smartphone Brand

For more than a decade, Samsung has been the top smartphone brand with its Galaxy line of devices. But for 2023, the torch has been passed, as Apple surpassed the company as the leader in the smartphone space.

According to IDC’s Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker, the smartphone market itself faced challenges last year. Global smartphone shipments declined 3.2% year-over-year to 1.17 billion units in 2023, marking the lowest full-year volume in a decade. This, says IDC, was driven by macroeconomic challenges an elevated inventory early in the year. It’s possible customers are holding on to devices for longer with brands like Samsung and Google offering anywhere from 5-7 years of software and security updates as well. However, this could be offset by a new generation coming into the market and getting phones from their parents.

Nonetheless, there was some expected recovery in the second half that suggests the market is on the rise for 2024. The fourth quarter of 2023 saw 8.5% year-over-year growth and 326.1 million shipments, which was actually higher than the 7.3% forecasted growth.

iPhone 15 Pro line
The Apple iPhone 15 series phones launched last Fall and continue to be the top models in the line-up.

Nabila Popal, Research Director with IDC’s Worldwide Tracker team, says the company saw strong growth from low-end Android players like Transsion and Xiaomi in Q2 2023, which was largely thanks to rapid growth in emerging markets. But the biggest winner, she says, is “clearly Apple.

“Not only is Apple the only player in the top three to show positive growth annually,” she explains, “but also bags the number-one 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 per cent of the market, fueled by aggressive trade-in offers and interest-free financing plans.” 

Ryan Reith, Group Vice President with IDC’s Worldwide Mobility and Consumer Device Trackers, points out that while Apple’s rise contributed to Samsung’s drop to second place, Apple isn’t the only reason. The Android space itself is diversifying with other brands that have compelling offerings.

OnePlus 12
Along with brands that are popular in emerging markets, both Samsung and Apple are facing competition from other Android brands in Canada and the U.S., like OnePlus.

“Huawei is back and making inroads quickly within China,” he explains. “Brands like OnePlus, Honor, Google, and others are launching very competitive devices in the lower price range of the high end. And foldables and increased discussions around AI capabilities on the smartphone are gaining traction. Overall, the smartphone space is headed towards a very interesting time.” 

In terms of worldwide smartphone shipment market share and year-over-year growth for Q4 2023, Apple was first with 80.5 million units shipped during the quarter, followed by Samsung with 53 million Xiaomi with 40.7 million, Transsion with 28.2 million, vivo with 24.1 million, and others with a combined total of 99.5 million. Apple has secured 24% market share and demonstrated 11.6% growth while Samsung has 19.8% share but it declined 10.9%. The largest growth was with Transsion at 68.6% followed by Xiaomi with 22.7% growth.

Worldwide for the calendar year 2023, Apple still comes out on top with 234.6 million shipments compared to 226.6 million for Samsung, 145.9 million for Xiaomi, 103.1 million for OPPO, and 94.9 million for Transsion. For the entire year, Apple was still up 3.7% and Samsung down 13.6%. Transsion, once again, had the most significant growth at 30.8% when compared to 2022.

Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra
The Samsung Galaxy S24 Series phones, including the Galaxy S24 Ultra, just launched today.

It’s an interesting shift, but with other phone brands ramping up in this space, from Google to OnePlus, it will be interesting to see how the market shifts. IDC did not provide numbers for North America alone. Brands like Transsion only offer phones in markets like China, Indonesia, Pakistan, Ethiopia, Bangladesh, and India. It’s unclear how the numbers shape up for Canada and the U.S. But chances are, Apple might have come out on top here as well. The company’s latest devices are the iPhone 15 series, while Samsung just today revealed its new S24 series phones, which rely heavily on AI features.

The Android space continues to get more exciting while Apple continues to delight with new features, upgrades like USB-C and wireless charging, sleeker finishes, and more with its iPhones. We’ll have to wait and see what 2024 brings in the ever-evolving smartphone space.