Total smartphone shipments for 2015 are projected to decline by 9.7% to 1.286 billion units, according to the latest report from global market research firm TrendForce. Though Chinese vendors have seen their shipments weakened as part of the ongoing slowdown in the worldwide smartphone market this year, their performances are above the global average. The combined shipments (including exports) from Chinese brands are estimated to grow 14.5% annually this year, accounting for 41% of the global smartphone shipments.
“Double-digit shipment growth is a thing of the past for vendors as the global market has begun to plateau in 2015 after years of growth” said TrendForce smartphone analyst Avril Wu. “While Samsung has kept its shipment title through the year, it is struggling against Apple in the high-end market and being pushed out of the mid-range and low-end segments by Chinese competitors. Facing challenges on two fronts, Samsung’s smartphone business will operate in an increasingly difficult situation in the near future. Closely trailing Samsung in global shipments is Apple, which remains as the dominant and most profitable vendor in the high-end market. As for Chinese brands, they are expanding overseas to gain market share. Huawei’s shipments surpassed 100 million units this year and became the third leading vendor on account of its export efforts. Xiaomi and Lenovo are also branching into the emerging markets.”
Looking ahead to 2016, TrendForce expects the smartphone market to remain saturated. Annual shipments are estimated to grow 7.3% to about 1.4 billion units. Major development trends are as follows:
Shipments from Chinese brands will stay above the global average as Lenovo and Xiaomi scramble for India
Huawei’s smartphone shipments skyrocketed over 40% in annual growth to above 100 million units in 2015. Compared with other Chinese brands, Huawei’s supply chain is the most complete in terms of vertical integration. The vendor also has the support of its subsidiary IC design company HiSilicon in the development of its high-end smartphones. Taken together, the shipment growth of Chinese brands will exceed the global average next year, Wu pointed out. However, the performance of each vendor will be dependent on its overseas sales. If Chinese vendors only achieve limited progress in their target foreign markets, they will have to fall back to the domestic market, where the raging price war will shrink their margins further – even to the point of selling at a loss.
India is the emerging market that all smartphone vendors have set their sight on. Besides an increasing presence of Chinese brands (e.g. Lenovo and Xiaomi), a number of domestic brands such as Micromax are also rising rapidly. The Indian market has a huge room for growth since only 20% of the country’s 1.3 billion inhabitants own a smartphone, noted Wu. Smartphone shipments in India are projected to maintain an annual growth rate of at least 30% in the next few years. Furthermore, Chinese vendors will continue their strategy of selling high-end smartphones at low prices as affordability is the main consideration of Indian consumers.
The scope of hardware innovations is limited for Samsung whereas Apple plans to introduce waterproof iPhones
Apple will release the upgraded 4-inch iPhone C series in the second quarter of 2016. The next iPhone (currently dubbed “iPhone 7”) will be introduced in the second half of next year. The major selling points of the next iPhone will be the 3GB memory upgrade for the 5.5-inch model and waterproof feature. Based on TrendForce’s estimation, about 260 million iPhones will be shipped in 2016, representing an annual growth of 12.5% and a market share of 18.5%. With the smartphone market becoming less profitable, iPhone will still have the highest margin next year compared with products from rival vendors.
As for the current market leader Samsung, Wu believes that the vendor will still have the largest market share worldwide in 2016. However, Samsung’s shipments are anticipated to drop 4% annually to 310 million due to Chinese competitors undercutting its prices. Apple is anticipated to significantly narrow its market share gap with Samsung next year as well. TrendForce analysis indicates that Samsung will hold 22% of the global smartphone market in 2016, a decline from 2015. Wu added that Samsung’s flagship devices for this year have hit the ceiling in specs, so the South Korean powerhouse will be straining to bring hardware innovations to its next smartphone release.
Hardware advances will be mainly related to processor manufacturing technology, mobile memory and displays
Processors made on 14/16nm manufacturing processes will be the first choice for smartphone vendors when it comes to building their next year’s high-end products. The advantage of advanced processes is the ability to make chips that use less power and are less susceptible to overheating. Since much of the 14/16nm capacity next will be used to supply chips for high-end smartphones, the production of components for low-end and mid-range devices will concentrate on the 28nm process.
As the next-generation mobile memory, LPDDR4 accounts for a growing share of the overall mobile DRAM production. Since DRAM manufacturing will be mainly on the 20nm process next year, the share of 8Gb/6Gb mono die in the mobile DRAM production will also increase, significantly raising the memory density of each smartphone unit. Most mid-range devices for next year will have 3GB of memory while high-end devices will be equipped with 4GB/6GB of memory.
In terms of display specs, FHD will prevail over HD as the mainstream display technology for smartphones next year. Vendors will even use QHD display to separate their top-of-the-line devices from products of the lower segments. More models will also feature narrow bezel and curved screen.