India was the only bright spot as global smartphone sales ground to a halt in 2018. As US and China saw smartphone sales decline quarter after quarter, India brought some cheer by adding more first-time smartphone buyers to the pool. Industry observers have noted that more consumers in India are upgrading their old phone in favour of large-screen smartphones.
Meanwhile, top smartphone brands like Xiaomi, Samsung, Apple, Huawei, and BBK-owned Oppo, Vivo and OnePlus showed their commitment to the market by expanding their presence in offline retail across the country. Several of them also expanded their manufacturing facilities.
With 2019 just a few days away, we take a closer look at how major smartphone brands fared over the past 12 months in India.
Top smartphone brands of 2018: Xiaomi
This was a landmark year for Xiaomi in India, as the Chinese company aggressively expanded to conquer the numero uno position in the country. The breakdown based on shipments, provided to indianexpress.com by CyberMedia Research (CMR), shows that Xiaomi shipped 35 million smartphones in India until the end of October.
In 2018, the company launched a number of smartphones (Redmi Note 5 Pro, Redmi 6, Mi A2 and so on) in the market and most of them went on to become a huge hit in their segments. What seems to have worked in favour of Xiaomi is its full focus on devices targeted at budget shoppers. Most of this year’s lineup of devices were predictable, including the Redmi 6A and Mi A2. In fact, the company didn’t drastically change the designs and features of smartphones, but even then its products were accepted well by the masses.
Even as it held on to its hard-earned top slot, it invested heavily in local manufacturing and offline retail, especially in rural areas. Xiaomi also decided to launch its sub-brand Poco in a bid to take on OnePlus which has found success in the top end Android segment, where Xiaomi is yet to make a mark.
Top smartphone brands of 2018: Samsung
This year, Samsung strived hard to put off the challenge from Xiaomi and other Chinese smartphone players and seemed to have fared better than last year. Samsung is no more India’s top smartphone brand seller, but it still sold a formidable 32 million smartphones until end-October 2018, according to data from CyberMedia Research.
Even as it lags behind Xiaomi, its massive retail presence and brand recall value is something others can’t beat at the moment. The new e-commerce rules that come into effect from February 1, 2019, could give Samsung an upper hand in comparison to Xiaomi and OnePlus which are primarily dependent on online sales.
Samsung continues to invest heavily in offline retail and just this September opened the world’s largest mobile experience center in Bengaluru. The South Korean major claims it has the largest retail and distribution network in India with over 180,000 retail partners and 2,100 Samsung brand stores. Samsung also opened the “world’s largest mobile factory” in India this year.
Despite Samsung’s aggressiveness and its commitment to the Indian market, the company delivered a few memorable products. Baring the Galaxy J6 and Galaxy J6+, Samsung had a few notable hits this year. The Galaxy S9 and Note 9 were appreciated too, though such devices are unlikely to drive sales volume in India.
Top smartphone brands of 2018: OnePlus
OnePlus has had a successful 2018. It was the year when the company scaled new heights backed by two ‘very’ successful products: OnePlus 6 and OnePlus 6T. Although we do not know how many phones OnePlus sold in India this year, we do know the brand commands the top-position in the smartphone segment where phones are priced above Rs 30,000 or more.
OnePlus has always been known for delivering premium smartphones at right prices, and that’s exactly what the company did this year too. Both the OnePlus 6 and OnePlus 6T felt compete with the right design, performance, cameras, battery life, and regular software updates.
And, while OnePlus’ strategy didn’t see a major change, the company did realise that it needed to expand its retail presence.
Top smartphone brands of 2018: Oppo/Vivo
In many ways, it seemed that 2018 was a year of reinvention for BBK-owned brands Oppo and Vivo. Both the brands launched a series of smartphones that were different from what their competition had to offer in 2018. Oppo wowed us with the Find X, whereas the Vivo launched the Nex. Both the phones show us a new way to get rid of the notch by using a pop-up camera.
One of the biggest changes to their lineup was to bring new features first to mid-rangers. Priced at Rs 35,990, Vivo X21 became India’s first smartphone to feature an in-screen fingerprint scanner. Similarly, Oppo F9 Pro was one of the first smartphones in the market to come with a waterdrop-style notch. Clearly, the idea was to cater to users looking for new features on mid-range smartphones.
However, there were reports that the brands were scaling down their retail expansion as they were losing money in the country. However, Vivo said it was committed to investing over Rs 4,000 crore in the Make in India initiative, while Oppo plans to set up an industrial park in Greater Noida. The latter also opened its first ever R&D center in Hyderabad.
According to CyberMedia Research (CMR), Vivo shipped about 11 million smartphones until end-October, Oppo did around 10 million shipments.
Top smartphone brands of 2018: Huawei/Honor
Huawei shipped more than 4 million smartphones till end-October 2018, as per the data provided to us by CMR, but it seems to be struggling with its own strategy of pushing two brands in India. Between Huawei and Honor, there seems to be a lot of overlapping of products and a lack of differentiation.
But looking at the growth the company has achieved in India over the past year and with its impressive lineup of devices (Mate 20 Pro, Honor 9N, Honor Play, etc), any clarity with the product range could propel the company to a different growth trajectory altogether.
Top smartphone brands of 2018: Apple
With just a 1 per cent market share in Q2 2018 (as per research firm Counterpoint), Apple held a firm grip in the premium smartphone segment, the only segment it operates in. So, even with its ‘insignificant market share’, Apple makes more profit than those who sell many more units. The magic sauce lies in Cupertino’s ability to increase the average selling price (ASP) that consumers pay for its iPhone. In the September quarter, this ASP grew to $793 per unit. Also, one needs to remember that Apple has a loyal fan base which will continue to pay a premium for iPhones. Going by that logic, Apple is in a healthy space and does not need to worry much.
In 2019, Apple could look to start manufacturing more of its phones in India as would be a natural progression since it already has facilities here. This could end up making at least some more models more affordable to more Indian buyers.