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Chinese smartphone makers helped breathe new life into the smartphone market during the first quarter (Q1) of 2017.
Global smartphone shipments reached 347.4 million units in Q1, a 4.3 percent year-over-year improvement, according to IDC's latest analysis of the market. The research group had originally forecast a 3.6 percent gain.
Although the buzz surrounding flagship phones like Samsung's just-released Galaxy S8 and Apple's upcoming 10th anniversary iPhone is practically deafening, it's the lower end of the market that's helping to drive demand. "Although we have seen an abundance of premium redesigned flagships that just entered the market, moving forward, we still expect most of the growth to come from more affordable models in a variety of markets" said IDC research director Anthony Scarsella in a statement.
"Despite all the popularity and media hype around premium devices, we continue to witness a shift in many companies' portfolios geared towards affordable devices with premium-type styling compared to flagship models," Scarsella continued. "Companies have started to implement a single premium design language that ultimately blurs the lines between the high-end and the low-end, allowing the average consumer to jump on the brand without a hefty upfront investment."
Illustrating his point, IDC's data shows that Samsung and Apple smartphone shipments were essentially flat in Q1. Samsung and Apple shipped 79.2 million and 51.6 million smartphones, respectively, during the quarter.
Meanwhile, shipments from Chinese electronics makers surged. Huawei moved 34.2 million smartphones, a 21.7 percent annual increase. OPPO shipped 25.6 million smartphones, a gain of nearly 30 percent. Vivo rounds out the top five with 18.1 million units shipped, a 23.5 percent improvement.
Notably, Samsung seems to be recovering well from the Note 7 disaster of last year.
Ahead of the Galaxy S8 release in April, Steep discounts on its predecessors (Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge) helped Samsung move product. Adding premium touches to its J-Series and A-Series affordable phones also enabled the South Korean device maker to drive demand in both emerging and established markets. Finally, the well-received Galaxy S8 has helped the Note 7 fade further back into memory for industry watchers.
On the iOS side of the fence, all eyes are on Apple and its highly-anticipated 10th anniversary iPhone. The company is widely expected to ditch its LED screens for a vibrant new OLED display that features a virtual home button – and perhaps a fingerprint reader embedded under the screen – and takes up the entire front of the device.
Pedro Hernandez is a contributing editor at Datamation. Follow him on Twitter @ecoINSITE.