Chinese smartphone shipments rebound with 15.9 per cent growth in 2021, with 5G models dominant

  • 5G smartphones accounted for 76 per cent of mobile handset shipments in 2021, compared with 53 per cent the previous year, according to CAICT data
  • In October, Apple regained its title as No 1 smartphone brand in China by shipments for the first time since December 2015, according to Counterpoint

The smartphone market in China rebounded last year after a pandemic-induced slump in 2020, although total sales have yet to reach 2019 levels, according to the latest data from a state-backed think tank.

China, the largest smartphone market in the world, shipped 342.8 million handsets to domestic consumers in 2021, a 15.9 per cent increase from 2020. The growth last year contrasted with the sector’s bleak performance in 2020, when shipments plummeted 20 per cent year on year to 295.7 million, according to the China Academy of Information and Communications (CAICT).

However, 2021 shipments failed to reach pre-pandemic levels when 372 million smartphones were shipped in 2019.

5G smartphones were the most popular type in 2021, with a 76 per cent market share, compared with 53 per cent in the previous year. Shipments of 5G smartphones reached 266.1 million units last year, representing 63.5 per cent year-on-year growth, CAICT data showed.

Although China’s smartphone sector has largely recovered from the pandemic, which severely disrupted production in the early days of 2020, it also faced supply chain pressures amid a global ship shortage last year.

Beijing-based Xiaomi, the third largest smartphone vendor globally, according to Canalys data for the third quarter, warned in November that the chip shortage could result in 10 million to 20 million fewer shipments for the year, and that the company could miss its annual target of 200 million handsets.

2021 also witnessed the decline of Huawei Technologies Co, the world’s largest telecommunications equipment maker and formerly China’s biggest smartphone vendor, as it struggled under US trade sanctions that limited its access to advanced chips, leading to the spin-off of its budget phone brand Honor in late 2020.

Chinese and foreign smartphone brands rushed to fill the void left by Huawei, especially in the premium segment, with Apple’s new iPhone 13 series seeing huge demand in China.

In October, Apple regained its title as the No 1 smartphone brand in China by shipments for the first time since December 2015, according to Counterpoint.

Domestic vendors accounted for 86.6 per cent of last year’s mobile phone shipments in China, according to CAICT data.

Author: Iris Deng, SCMP

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