China’s Mobile Rankings: Apple Tops, Honor Leads Domestic Brands

Apple Dominates, Honor Leads Among Chinese Brands in China’s Smartphone Market

Written by | Yuqing Ni
Edited by | Weixian Zhang
Image Source | TuChong

In 2023, the Chinese smartphone market witnessed a fierce competition for dominance.

According to the latest IDC report, the market saw around 73.63 million units shipped in the fourth quarter, marking a 1.2% year-over-year increase and the first rebound in 10 quarters. In that quarter, the top five shippers were Apple, Honor, vivo, Huawei, and OPPO, with Xiaomi placing fifth based on data from Canalys.

Looking at the annual performance, as per IDC, Apple (17.3%), Honor (17.1%), OPPO (16.7%), vivo (16.5%), and Xiaomi (13.2%) led the year. Canalys data, however, show that aside from Apple’s 19%, Honor, vivo, and OPPO each held a close 16% share.

From IDC data, Apple has become the annual leading smartphone shipper in China for the first time in five years, with Honor climbing to second place as the top domestic brand. The market is mostly a play amongst the leading manufacturers, with competition remaining intense.

With Huawei’s comeback, 2024 is also anticipated to be a year of fierce competition. IDC noted that China’s smartphone shipment volume was about 271 million units in 2023, down by 5.0% year-over-year – the lowest in nearly a decade. The market faced a slump in the first half of the year but started improving gradually in the second, although full potential has not been fully unleashed.

IDC China’s Senior Analyst Tianxiang Guo mentioned that while the market is on a growth trajectory, a cautiously optimistic view should be maintained for 2024. Consumers who upgraded during the second half of 2020’s shipment peak are expected to enter their device refresh cycle in the first half of this year, forming the basis for market recovery.

5-Year Shift: Apple Takes the Crown, Honor Charges Forward

Apple led in shipments for both Q4 2023 and the full year in the domestic market. Honor showed the most significant shift in the rankings, securing the top spot among domestic brands annually and quarterly, per IDC, right after Apple.

IDC’s report analyzed that despite facing a clear impact from rivals and limited upgrades reducing attractiveness, Apple attracted significant demand due to aggressive price promotions through third-party channels.

The report also recognized that, although not as clearly advantageous as android flagships, the overall product power of the iPhone remains among the best, albeit with earlier pricing adjustments.

Looking at Honor, after over three years of independence, the brand has significantly rebounded. IDC highlighted that Honor retained strong momentum amidst fierce competition in 2023, gaining share in the over $800 market with its folding screens and launching hit products in the mid-to-low-end segment. “A successful product strategy and improved channel cooperation helped Honor secure the second position in domestic total annual shipments,” IDC concluded.

Honor’s offensive continued into early 2024, with the recent launch of the Magic6 series and MagicOS 8.0 OS. Innovations such as Hongyan communication technology, second-generation Qinghai Lake battery, Juxi glass, and new-gen Oasis eye protection technology were introduced. Honor also expanded its offline presence with over 40,000 specialized counters and over 2,000 experience stores across the Chinese market.

Meanwhile, the rivalry is heating up. Canalys data indicate that in 2023, vivo, OPPO, and Honor held a steady 16% share, with shipments ranging between 40 – 45 million units. Huawei, following them at sixth place, jumped from 8% to 12% share year-over-year, a 48% rise in shipments.

The dynamics continue to evolve. Looking back, the top five in China’s smartphone market in 2019 according to IDC were Huawei (38.3%), vivo (18.1%), OPPO (17.1%), Xiaomi (10.9%), and Apple (8.9%). Five years later in 2023, the standings changed to Apple (17.3%), Honor (17.1%), OPPO (16.7%), vivo (16.5%), Xiaomi (13.2%).

Canalys Manager Amber Liu noted, “Looking into 2024, as channel profits improve and compelling new products energize the competition, China’s smartphone market is expected to gently recover. The increasing middle-class population over the next decade makes the vast high-end market a key battleground for manufacturers, both domestic and international.”

Huawei’s Return: Q4 Trends Shift

The Q4 2023 data reflect the evolving trends, particularly after Huawei’s return, which began to shift the market landscape.

Canalys Analyst Lucas Zhong stated, “Having been absent for ten quarters, Huawei was the quarter’s dark horse, returning to China’s top five shipments. The Mate 60 Pro has led Huawei’s shipment recovery with its in-house Kirin chip and innovative features like satellite calling. The overall market has seen a structural recovery driven by Huawei’s new flagship, particularly in the high-end segment.”

It’s noteworthy that OPPO fell out of the top five in Canalys’ rankings and Xiaomi dropped out of IDC’s in Q4. However, both Xiaomi and OPPO remained in the annual top five for 2023. These movements highlight the intensifying battle among the market leaders.

Liu pointed out, “Huawei rejoining the fray will heat up the competition and drive innovation. To defend their market shares, brands will focus on in-house operating systems and generative AI strategies in 2024. Maintaining close channel partnerships will also be crucial for other manufacturers to defend their market shares under Huawei’s pressure.”

This year, the battle will extend beyond domestic turf to the international stage. For instance, in the European market, OPPO and vivo had to exit some regions due to patent issues. Recently OPPO and Nokia settled their patent disputes, suggesting OPPO’s potential new strategies in Europe.

Honor is ramping up its efforts in Europe, with 2023 being its debut year in the market. Honor’s CEO Zhao Ming aims for a 150% growth rate in Europe in 2024, intending to build a high-end brand presence there, with Honor’s ASP in Europe being over double compared to other regions outside China, making it the brand’s second home market.

Transsion, deeply-rooted in Africa, will also make more moves in Europe. As a strategic battleground, Europe will witness intense competition from various players, with the upcoming MWC2024 being a significant stage for this rivalry.

Globally, IDC data shows that in 2023, Apple overtook Samsung to claim the top spot in the worldwide smartphone market, followed by Xiaomi, Transsion, and vivo. Ryan Reith, VP of IDC’s Global Mobile and Consumer Device Tracking Service, remarked that the reshuffle in market rankings underscores the intense competition in the smartphone industry. The global market continues to face challenges, but there are signs of a swift recovery.

SFC

Edition by Liu Xueying and intern Tao Tao

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