Woman in a black blazer holding a smartphone in front of a building with a lot of lighting.
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The smartphone industry started 2022 on a sour note as shipments dropped for the first quarter by 11% from the first quarter of 2021, research firm Canalys reported on Tuesday. The latest figures are a decided downturn from the year ago-quarter when shipments jumped by 27% amid signs of a recovery from the coronavirus pandemic. Since then, shipments fell by 9% in last year’s second quarter and by 6% in the third quarter, followed by a 1% gain in the fourth quarter.

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Canalys VP of Mobility Nicole Peng blamed the first-quarter decline on “an unsettled business environment.”

Several regions around the world saw a jump in COVID-19 cases due to the Omicron variant, though high vaccination rates and fewer hospitalizations lessened the blow. Of more immediate impact, smartphone vendors have been jettisoned by uncertainty over China’s COVID lockdowns, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and the rising threat of inflation.

“All this added to traditionally slow seasonal demand,” Peng said. “Vendors must equip themselves to respond quickly to emerging opportunities and risks while staying focused on their long-term strategic plans. The good news is that the painful component shortages might improve sooner than expected, which will certainly help relieve cost pressures.”

One key question is how the downturn in shipments might affect smartphone customers, especially businesses and other organizations.

“Most businesses and organizations may experience some delay in getting the devices they need, but their operations will not be severely impacted,” Canalys research analyst Runar Bjørhovde said. “Consumers will see much higher effects as the range of devices and number of vendors operating in this segment is higher than B2B. Although supply is still the main bottleneck for the smartphone market, demand has reduced to allow the existing supply to reach the end-users who need it the most.”

Image: Canalys

Still, what should organizations do if they can’t get the phones they need for employees?

“Companies who are dependent on managed enterprise devices will either turn to older, existing devices and stretch out the lifetime of the devices, or turn to alternative solutions (PC, tablets, laptops),” Bjørhovde said. “Refurbished devices also offer an unconventional option if the situation is critical. Companies not dependent on managed enterprise devices will likely turn to their employees to use their private devices and increase bring-your-own-device incentives.”

For the quarter, Samsung retained its top spot with a 24% slice of the global smartphone market, up from 22% a year ago. In second place, Apple took home a market share of 18%, up from 15% in the prior year’s quarter.

“Despite the looming uncertainty in global markets, the leading vendors accelerated their growth by broadening device portfolios for 2022,” Canalys analyst Sanyam Chaurasia said.

Samsung did well by updating its lineup for 2022, including its flagship Galaxy S22 series. The company also boosted production of its A series lineup to compete more aggressively in the mid-to-low-end segment. Apple’s iPhone 13 series continued to see high consumer demand, while a new iPhone SE with 5G and better battery life that launched in March is starting to drive sales in the mid-range tier.

The three Chinese vendors filling out the top five each saw their market shares drift down slightly. Xiaomi’s share fell to 13% from 14%, OPPO’s to 10% from 11%, and Vivo’s to 8% from 10%. The Chinese players are seeing supply constraints at the low end of the market, slowing down sales in their home country and limiting their global expansion, according to Chaurasia.