Everyone's on their smartphones, but they are not in the mood to pick up new ones. Global sales took a dive in the first three months. Image Credit: AP

New York: Global shipments of smartphones fell in the first quarter at the fastest rate on record, illustrating the devastating impact of COVID-19 on consumption and production in the critical segment of the technology industry.

Shipments totaled about 275 million in the first three months of the year, according to market trackers Strategy Analytics and IDC, which estimate the decline from the same period in 2019 at 17 per cent and 11 per cent, respectively. Their numbers vary slightly because they estimate results from a range of manufacturers.

Both firms attribute the shortfall largely to the coronavirus outbreak, which hurt the supply chain - with factories across Asia having to shutter temporarily to constrain the spread - as well as demand due to widespread lockdowns that included retail stores.

“What started as primarily a supply-side problem initially limited to China has grown into a global economic crisis with the demand-side impact starting to show by the end of the quarter,” said Nabila Popal, research director at IDC.

Revised forecasts

Bellwether supplier Murata Manufacturing Co. had said in mid-April that most of its customers were maintaining order volumes and roadmaps through the rest of the year, but on Thursday it revised that outlook with a forecast of a 10 per cent slump in demand for the current fiscal year. “The outlook is extremely hard to foresee now,” Chairman Tsuneo Murata said.

IDC’s analysis found Apple Inc. iPhones mostly unchanged at close to 37 million shipments, showing greater resilience than top smartphone vendor Samsung Electronics Co., whose output fell from just under 72 million to about 58 million shipments in the quarter. Huawei Technologies Co., with the added pressure of US sanctions and scrutiny, dropped by roughly 10 million units in the quarter, landing near 49 million.

Xiaomi scores with India

Xiaomi Corp. achieved a record 10 per cent market share, according to both market research groups, and managed to increase its shipments, by IDC’s estimation. “Xiaomi is dominating the huge India market at the moment and this is giving the company a big boost in smartphone shipments,” said Linda Sui of Strategy Analytics.

Looking forward, IDC expects consumer demand to remain suppressed through the rest of the year, with the global economic downturn preventing any year-on-year growth until at least the fourth quarter.

Indians check out Xiaomi Corp’s smartphones
Despite difficult trading conditions, China's Xiaomi managed to build up its global share, driven by higher sales in India. Image Credit: Bloomberg