The smartphone market is peaking

Shipments have leveled off, and smaller phone makers are ousting the giants.

Karlis Dambrans, Flickr

It's not just Apple taking a tumble in the smartphone market, apparently. IDC has published estimates for first quarter market share which not only suggest that shipments are virtually flat (up a mere 0.2 percent), but that the mobile landscape is changing rapidly. While Apple was the only company in the top five manufacturers to see a big hit, Samsung shrank slightly as well... and even the Chinese contingent is shaking things up a bit. Huawei is still sitting comfortably in third place, but Lenovo and Xiaomi are out of the top ranks -- instead, it's the popular but not-quite-household names like Oppo and Vivo (both owned by BBK) that are storming up the charts.

IDC pins the shift on a heavily saturated market where even China's once super-hot demand has tapered off. Of the bunch at the top, Huawei is the only one that seems to have a knack for catering to both Chinese and international customers, and does well at both the high and low ends. Lenovo and Xiaomi suffered both because of their more China-centric businesses and their trouble competing with Oppo, Vivo and other rivals making slightly higher-priced hardware.

One thing's for sure: the days of appealing to first-timers are largely over. Phone makers are primarily competing for each other's customers, and it's far more likely that people will jump ship if they see a better phone or price somewhere else. The vendors that survive may have to either reduce their dependence on any one market or else cultivate loyalty that won't be lost the moment a competitor runs a sale.

IDC's smartphone market share estimates for Q1 2016