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Apple back on top in global smartphone sales

The launch of the 5G variant of the iPhone has propelled Apple to the top of the global smartphone makers’ rankings for the first time in five years, bucking the broader slowdown in handset sales during the pandemic.

According to the research firm Gartner, Apple sold almost 80m phones in the final three months of 2020 following the launch of the iPhone 12, overtaking Samsung to become the world’s largest smartphone maker for the first time since 2016.

Huawei suffered a sharp slide, with smartphone sales down 41 per cent in the quarter due to sanctions imposed by the US government. It dropped to fifth place in the league table, below Chinese rivals Xiaomi and Oppo, as the US clampdown on its use of Google apps bit into its market share.

It is the first time since 2013, when it trailed both BlackBerry and Sony, that Huawei has not been among the top four phonemakers in the world in a given quarter, according to Gartner.

Huawei, which agreed to sell its low-end Honor smartphone brand in November, fell to third place overall in 2020 behind Apple as its annual sales slumped by almost a quarter.

Annette Zimmerman, lead analyst for Apple at Gartner, said that the 15 per cent rise in Apple’s sales in the fourth quarter showed that the company had benefited from an “upgrade super-cycle” triggered by millions of consumers who had waited for the new 5G iPhone.

She said that the momentum would likely continue into the first quarter of 2021, in which Chinese new year falls, and further into the year as Apple’s sales grow in line with a recovering market.

The new iPhone helped offset a broader slump in smartphone sales, which declined 12 per cent to 1.35bn over the course of 2020 but fell only 5 per cent in the final quarter to 385m. The decline in consumer confidence has been attributed to the spread of Covid-19 and related disruption in the global supply chain.

Samsung recorded a 12 per cent decline in the fourth quarter, and 15 per cent over the course of the year, as Chinese brands Oppo, Xiaomi and Vivo ate into its share in the mid-market while Apple dominated at the premium end.

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