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Apple, not Samsung, was the top-selling smartphone brand in late 2020

It's the first time Apple has claimed the crown in years.

Published onFebruary 22, 2021

iPhone 12 Pro Max back with neon 1
David Imel / Android Authority
  • Apple ousted Samsung and Xiaomi to become the top-selling phone brand in Q4 2020.
  • It was the first time Apple had claimed the lead since 2016.
  • The iPhone 12 and HUAWEI’s decline helped Apple pull ahead.

Android no longer has the top spot among smartphone brands. Gartner analysts have estimated that Apple overtook Samsung to become the top-selling phone maker in the fourth quarter of 2020, claiming 20.8% market share to its rival’s 16.2%. That’s a sharp turnaround from the same time a year earlier, when Samsung just edged out Apple to get 17.3% market share.

Other top brands fared well, but it was a rough time for the industry as a whole. Xiaomi surged from 8% market share to 11.3% in the space of a year, but OPPO only nudged ahead slightly from 7.5% to 8.9%. And it was another disastrous quarter for HUAWEI — the US trade ban cut its share from 14.3 percent in late 2019 to just 8.9% at the end of 2020.

The overall phone market contracted 5.4% due in no small part to the COVID-19 pandemic prompting many customers to limit their spending.

It’s a significant milestone for Apple. This was the first time the phone maker had topped Gartner’s quarterly market share ranks since fall 2016 and the iPhone 7. Samsung still led the full-year share with 18.8% versus Apple’s 14.8%, but the lead narrowed considerably.

See also: The best Android phones

Apple’s rise was helped by a perfect storm of events. The pandemic pushed the iPhone 12 launch from the company’s usual September time frame to October, creating a sales spike that would otherwise have been slightly muted. This was also Apple’s largest selection of iPhones to date, with the 12 Mini offering one more option.  HUAWEI’s fall from grace certainly helped Apple’s phone market share numbers, even if customers didn’t switch.

The shift in phone market share was partly a reflection of Samsung’s challenges. It faced fiercer competition from Chinese brands like Xiaomi, OPPO, and vivo as they gained influence outside of their home country. Low-end and mid-range phones thrived in the fourth quarter, Gartner said, and Chinese vendors have thrived in those categories in recent years.

It’s not certain how most of these brands will fare in 2021. Mass vaccinations and the overall pandemic recovery could spark demand as people leave home more often. The Galaxy S21 could help Samsung’s fortunes given strong early demand, but it’s not guaranteed to fare better overall when budget phones and direct rivals like the Xiaomi Mi 11 pose major threats. It’s safe to presume HUAWEI will struggle — it doesn’t have much of a future in phones without its own chips or the HONOR brand.

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