But Samsung, which stood second to Huawei in global shipments for the second quarter, was more or less eclipsed in China, being relegated to the category of "others", brands with a negligible percentage of market share.
Technology analyst firm Canalys said fellow Chinese brands vivo and OPPO were second and third in shipments, showing growth of 23% and 16% sequentially respectively, with shipments of 14.8 million units and 14.5 million units respectively.
Xiaomi was fourth with 9.3 million units shipped and 21% growth quarter-on-quarter. Apple posted the fastest growth among the top five, with 25% sequentially and 35% annually, shipping 7.7 million iPhones for the quarter, with online sales and a lower priced product portfolio identified as the contributory factors.
“Thanks to the significant marketing push and sales incentives offered by major e-commerce players like Alibaba, JD.com and Pinduoduo during the quarter, smartphone vendors saw stronger than expected Q2 results, despite offline traffic being weak.
"Premium brands like Huawei and Apple keep investing online and are benefitting from the soaring appetite for online shopping.”
The firm predicted that China's smartphone shipments would touch 325 million in 2020.
“Although there is a small domestic resurgence of COVID-19 cases in China, overall business activities and economic recovery are unlikely to reverse,” added Low. “Consumer demand for smartphones is likely to improve gradually, with growth uncertainties persisting. Chinese vendors are keen to rapidly capitalise on China's recovery to offset their losses in other major markets, where the negative impact of coronavirus may be more prolonged.”
Regarding the impact of the low-cost iPhone SE in China, Low said the launch of the device had come right after the Chinese market reopened in April and created a real buzz, with promotions around installment plans and trade-in offers.
“Lower price points work exceptionally well with online channels, where e-retailers can couple a device with a wide range of payment options and bundling offers," he said. "Sales subsidies, in this case, are highly effective too. The level of collaboration between Apple and e-commerce players is new, the results of which are welcomed by consumers.”
Research analyst Louis Liu said 5G smartphones were thriving with 39 million units shipped in China in Q2 2020, up 260% from Q1.
“The local brands are driving 5G penetration within their portfolio to support operator efforts to transition existing 4G users to 5G; this has already surpassed 100 million subscribers in July," he noted.
"Huawei is aiming to be the go-to 5G brand in China. Its 5G portfolio exceeded 60% of its total shipments in Q2. Meanwhile, close to a third of the shipments of competitors, such as vivo, OPPO and Xiaomi are already 5G-enabled.
"Few new 4G models will appear in any major vendors’ second half roadmap this year. 5G adoption will, therefore, accelerate as consumers will have fewer 4G options when they replace their smartphones.”
Charts: Courtesy Canalys