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The latest report from the global market research firm TrendForce projects that the 2016 global smartphone shipments will be at 1.34 billion units, showing just a 5.8% annual growth as well as a consecutive decline from the estimated 8.3% annual growth of this year. According to TrendForce’s smartphone analyst Avril Wu, 2015 marks the end of the smartphone boom that began with the launch of the iPhone in 2007. “The industry from this year on will not be able to deliver the same impressive results of the past years, when shipment increases were upwards of 30%,” Wu said, “Smartphone growth trend is coming to a plateau period.”
The sales of iPhone 6 and 6 Plus stayed hot throughout the first half of 2015, unaffected by seasonality influences. As a result, Apple will see its annual iPhone shipment growth close to 16% this year, totaling 223 million units. However, the next iPhone (also referred to as iPhone 6S) focuses only on hardware upgrades and is similar to the current iPhone models in appearance. Furthermore, several rival brands have released their latest models ahead of the next iPhone’s launch in September. Samsung deliberately launched Galaxy Note 5 earlier, and so did Huawei with its Mate S featuring Force Touch and Sony with its Xperia Z5 Premium, which is the first smartphone with a 4K display. These competing devices and the next iPhone’s lack of fresh looks will have a tangible impact on iPhone sales next year. In sum, Apple is also moving into a plateau growth period, and TrendForce expects the vendor to see its first ever single-digit iPhone shipment growth in 2016 at about 7.5%.
Rising Chinese brands are bringing in a new round competition that will phase out some weaker players
Though the projected global smartphone shipment growth for 2016 is reduced to a low 5.8%, TrendForce expects Chinese brands will be able to maintain shipment increases of at least 10% annually next year, with their combined shipments totaling around 576 million units. “Our smartphone shipment data for the second quarter of this year shows that 7 out of the top 10 global smartphone vendors are Chinese,” said Wu, “They have shown themselves to be highly competitive, driving a new round of global industry restructuring as they steadily gain grounds over other global brands, such as Microsoft, Sony and HTC.”
From the standpoint of product cost structure, at least 80% of components for Chinese branded smartphones are sourced from foreign suppliers. Therefore, the Chinese government has been encouraging the domestic smartphone industry to transform its role from manufacturing to independent R&D. The expectation is that Chinese companies eventually will be participating in the configuration and standardization of smartphone specs. Huawei using smartphone chips from its subsidiary HiSilicon is a case in point. Another notable example is Spreadtrum’s efforts to enhance its R&D through its collaboration with Intel. The Chinese government has furthermore targeted DRAM production for strategic investments as it aspires to create domestic rivals to South Korean and U.S. companies that can develop DRAM components in house. “The strengths of Chinese smartphone vendors will become quite formidable if they are able to obtain key component technologies without significant hindrances,” said Wu, “And in the next 10 years the focus of the industry’s attention will be on how the Chinese ‘Red Supply Chain’ is established in such a way that assists Chinese smartphone vendors to expand globally.”