Apple: iPhone Dominates The Holiday Quarter

Research company Gartner has confirmed that last year’s holiday season was ruled by the iPhone. While timing played a role, 2020 marked a key turning point for Apple’s smartphone sales.
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Those who paid attention to Apple’s outstanding fiscal first quarter results may not be surprised at all to hear that the iPhone ruled during last year’s holiday period.

Now, third-party researcher Gartner has added some color to the narrative. According to the company, Apple was the top seller of smartphones in the calendar fourth quarter of 2020.

Top seller smartphones FY21 fourth quarter.

Top seller smartphones FY21 fourth quarter.

It is rare for Apple to lead Samsung in market share, as it did by over four percentage points in the holiday season. In fact, for all of 2020, the South Korean maker remained the number one vendor in the world, topping the Cupertino company by over 50 million devices sold.

Therefore, the most recent report on worldwide smartphone shipments looks like a big win for Apple.

A bit of a distortion

To be fair, the iPhone’s dominance in the most recent quarter comes with an asterisk. The strong numbers were made possible, in part, due to the timing of the iPhone 12’s release, which “stole” sales from the third quarter and shifted them into the fourth period.

The much-anticipated iPhone 12 saw the light of day only in October, while the Pro and Mini versions did not become available until around mid-November. The late launch caused all the pent-up demand accumulated through much of 2020 to push device sales through the roof just ahead of Black Friday.

Meanwhile, Samsung’s 5G-ready S20 had been in the market since March of last year. Users looking for a new phone from the Korean maker had the opportunity to make their purchases earlier in 2020.

A long-overdue rebound

I would expect Samsung to reclaim its position as the number one smartphone vendor by the second quarter of 2021 at worst, if not during the current one.

Still, I am impressed to see Apple regain so much lost ground since the 2016 holiday quarter – the last time that the Cupertino company overtook its competitor as the leader of the market share board, on the back of a successful iPhone 7.

Since 2015, both Apple and Samsung have been losing their grip on the market to Chinese players, including Huawei and Xiaomi. However, 2020 was a different story, as Apple regained over two percentage points of market share relative to the previous year.

Compared to Samsung, Apple has also clawed back more than two percentage points of market share since 2015. The difference between the two in 2020 dropped to only four percentage points, the narrowest ever.

See chart below.

Market share full year, Apple vs. Samsung

Market share full year, Apple vs. Samsung

Pop quiz on Twitter

I reached out to the Twitter-verse and asked a question about Apple’s market share relative to Samsung’s in the last five years. Here are the responses:

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