China is the most unique smartphone market in the world: a phone maker can be a global sales leader without ever treading beyond Chinese borders, and small upstart challengers can suddenly explode in popularity from out of nowhere. The latter aspect is becoming harder now, however, as the latest data from Kantar Worldpanel shows that China’s top five phone vendors are becoming a more solid and dominant group.
Kantar reports that, for the calendar quarter ending in October, the top five of Huawei, Xiaomi, Apple, Vivo, and Oppo accounted for 91 percent of the overall market. That’s up from 79 percent a year earlier, extending a lead that now sees companies like ZTE, Meizu, and Lenovo struggling to find a foothold in their home country. Global smartphone leader Samsung is now at a 2.2 percent share in China and deteriorating, according to Kantar’s Dominic Sunnebo.
It’s notable how diverse each company’s strategy for success in China has been. Oppo and Vivo have prioritized rural China, setting up a huge network of brick-and-mortar stores that get their devices out to consumers who might not yet have access to the internet. Xiaomi has been and remains dominant in online sales, though those have fallen as a proportion of phone sales in China owing to the faster growth of physical retail. The major resurgence that Xiaomi has enjoyed over this past year has been down to a new strategy of integrating more real-world stores with its already successful online strategy. Huawei has focused primarily on urban China, and it’s reaped the rewards of it as one of the leading brands. Apple, finally, has maintained its status as a premium luxury brand, and its iPhone X debut is likely to boost its numbers in the next quarter, serving as exactly the aspirational product that many young Chinese consumers are looking for.