Huawei Technologies, while still holding the lead among vendors, saw a drop in volume year-on-year for the first time since the first quarter of 2014, shipping 34.2 million units during the third quarter of 2020. This meant its market share fell from 44.3% in the second quarter to 41.2% in the third.
Another firm, Counterpoint Research, has also issued figures for the Chinese market, the world's biggest, but did not provide shipment numbers, only percentages. It had Huawei in the lead, though it said the company's share was slipping due to the sanctions imposed on it by the US.
Canalys said vendors vivo and OPPO, both owned by the firm B.B.K. Electronics, held on to the second and third spots, but both witnessed declines as well, falling 13% and 18% respectively on a year-on-year comparison.
"The market decline was expected,” said Canalys analyst Mo Jia. “Huawei was forced to restrict its smartphone shipments following the 17 August US sanctions which caused a void in channels in 3Q that its peers were not equipped to fill.
"Huawei is facing its most serious challenge since taking the lead in 2016. If the position of the US administration does not change, Huawei will attempt to pivot its business strategy, to focus on building the Hongmeng OS and software eco-system, as the Chinese Government is eager to nurture home-grown alternatives to global platforms.”
Canalys vice-president of Mobility, Nicole Peng said: “Despite not launching a new iPhone flagship in September, Apple avoided a severe drop in 3Q, propped up by more affordable iPhones, such as iPhone SE and iPhone 11.
“However, the iPhone 12 series will be a game changer for Apple in Mainland China. As most smartphones in China are now 5G-capable, Apple is closing a critical gap, and pent-up demand for its new 5G-enabled family will be strong.”
Canalys said new product launches from major vendors would intensify competition in 5G smartphones in the fourth quarter.
"This includes Huawei’s Mate40 series, which is launching in China today [30 October],” said Jia. “Huawei’s competitors will move fast in 4Q and attempt to fill the channel void left by Huawei, as well as taking over its advertising placements and retail floorspace.
"While moving quickly is risky amid a declining market and a global pandemic, this is a one-time opportunity for Huawei’s rivals in China, which will not last.”