For the first time in more than two years, Samsung did not sell the most phones in the world over a quarterly period. According to results released and vetted by research firm Canalys, Huawei’s 55.8 million phones shipped in the second quarter of 2020, beating 53.7 million shipped by Samsung for the top spot.
Apple sits comfortably in the third quarter with somewhere between 40 to 45 million, with the exact numbers still being confirmed as of time of publication. Xiaomi and Oppo finished fourth and fifth respectively with 28.8 million and 25.8 million.
This would appear to be a big win for the Chinese tech giant, whose mobile business was dealt a major blow in May 2019 after being placed on the U.S. “entity list” by the Trump administration, which essentially barred Google from supplying its core mobile services to Huawei. Combining Huawei’s Q2 and Q1 (49 million) sales numbers, the company has sold the most phones in 2020 so far.
But there’s more to the numbers than just the easy headline. When I first saw the numbers, I surmised Covid-19 had to have played a role, since Huawei’s key market, China, has mostly resumed normal daily life, while North America (Samsung’s key market outside its home country) is still recovering.
And so I spoke to Mo Jia, a Paris-based analyst for Canalys, for further context.
“China returning to normal life before [countries in the west] definitely contributed to the situation,” Mo said, adding that of the 55.8 million phones sold by Huawei in Q2, 40 million were inside China. “But Huawei’s also managed to prevent its European sales numbers from free falling as many had predicted after the they were placed on the entity list.”
Mo said Huawei’s European market numbers have fallen from 22% in Q2 2019 to 16% this quarter, but this drop is relatively low considering the ongoing pandemic and the Google situation.
Huawei has managed to stay afloat in western Europe for now by re-releasing older models of phones such as the P30, which can still use Google’s core services due to it being certified before the entity list.
“Huawei is essentially changing the shell by changing colors or build material of an existing phone and re-releasing in Europe, which are selling,” Mo said, adding that the loss of Google services has mostly hurt Huawei’s new phone sales in western Europe due to consumer’s Google-reliance.
“But there are other parts of Europe such as Russia and Turkey, which are not so reliant on Google services, and Huawei sales have remained strong in those regions.”
But, of course, this strategy can’t last, as these pre-entity list phones will eventually be too underpowered as mobile tech continues to push forward.
“Huawei will need to popularize HMS in the long run to ensure continued sales in western Europe.”
Huawei, of course, knows this and is trying to do just that. In a separate call with Andreas Zimmer, Huawei’s app store head of ecosystem and software strategy for its mobile app store, he said the number of people in Europe using Huawei Mobile Services (Huawei’s alternative to the banned Google services) has grown from 530 million to 700 million from Q1 2019 to Q2 2020.
The brand is taking an active approach at enticing European app developers to build for Huawei’s ecosystem in the form of incentives, including a $1 billion program aimed at nurturing and supporting app developers in the west to build for Huawei’s mobile services.