The big picture: Samsung regained the crown as the world's largest phone maker by volume, while Xiaomi was able to climb back to the number three spot by overtaking Apple. Overall, the smartphone market is showing some signs of recovery, but it's still smaller than it was a year ago.
Earlier in 2020, Huawei overtook Samsung for the first time in terms of worldwide smartphone shipments, managing to sell 55.8 million devices despite its products being subject to US sanctions. However, the pandemic-induced trend of slowing smartphone sales has continued through the third quarter, and the top five companies once again shuffled places on the leaderboards.
According to Counterpoint Research, the global smartphone market declined 4 percent year-over-year but grew 32 percent on the quarter corresponding to the three months ending in August. This was possible thanks to factories in China, India and Vietnam operating at 80 percent of their pre-Covid-19 capacity and easing lockdown conditions encouraging consumers to purchase new phones.
Counterpoint researchers report that an estimated 366 million units were sold worldwide in Q3 2020, while Canalys has a more conservative estimate of 348 million units. Either way, both agree that Samsung is the leader in terms of shipments with almost 80 million units, which is a small increase year-over-year but also an impressive 47 percent quarter-over-quarter growth story.
The biggest drivers of that growth were the Indian, Western Europe, and Latin American markets where A-series and M-series Samsung phones are quite popular, while the Note 20 has been a top favorite among consumers in the US.
Huawei shipped around 67 million units in the third quarter, and that figure could continue to drop in the short term as the company is looking to sell its Honor division and the US continues to cut access to its most important component and software suppliers. The company did, however, drive more than 40 percent of the 5G shipments for the quarter, which is no small feat.
Apple shipped less than 42 million iPhones during Q3 2020, which is a natural consequence of the delayed iPhone 12 launch. That's only slightly more than the second quarter, but the Cupertino giant is no doubt content with its one billion iPhone users, some of which are going to upgrade to its 5G handsets in the coming months.
Interestingly, Xiaomi managed to surpass Apple in terms of shipments and plant itself firmly into the third position. The Chinese company shipped over 46 million units, aided in part by stronger performance in its home market. In Europe, Xiaomi grew at the expense of Huawei, and there are signs it's doing the same in Southeast Asian markets like Vietnam, Indonesia, and the Philippines.
Overall, Xiaomi saw a 46 percent year year-over-year increase in shipments, but that pales in comparison to Realme's 132 percent growth in the same three months. In fact, BBK brands such as Oppo, Realme, and Vivo occupy the fifth, sixth, and seventh spot respectively in terms of global smartphone shipments. Together they sold more units than Huawei, and most of that growth was achieved thanks to the Chinese and European markets.
It's also worth noting that Lenovo's Motorola brand is still alive and well at over 10 million units shipped in Q3 2020, mostly thanks to aggressive deals on its budget-friendly Moto E and Moto G families.