Right now, Samsung is the leader in 5G phones. The South Korean tech conglomerate has already released a couple of smartphones with variants that support 5G networks, such as the Galaxy S10 5G and Galaxy Note 10+ 5G. A few other smartphone vendors have also started to wade into the 5G waters, with China's Huawei at No. 2 currently. Apple (AAPL 1.56%) was unable to launch a 5G iPhone in 2019 due in large part to its two-year-long legal war with Qualcomm and hopes that Intel would be able to deliver a competing 5G modem (it couldn't).
Apple's surprise settlement with Qualcomm in April paves the way for a 5G iPhone in 2020. Once it arrives, the Cupertino tech giant will become the leader in 5G smartphones.
Taking the lead in 2020
Strategy Analytics released a research report last week predicting that Apple will jump into 5G in the third quarter, quickly overtaking Samsung and Huawei to take the lead in the back half of the year. Apple tends to launch new iPhone models in September every year, near the end of the third quarter. In addition to 5G, the 2020 iPhone is expected to get a redesigned chassis reminiscent of the iPhone 4, since Apple is using the current overall design for the third year. Those two factors could be a powerful upgrade driver.
"It may seem counterintuitive that Apple, which currently has no 5G phones in its portfolio will be able to pass current 5G market leaders Samsung and Huawei," Strategy Analytics director Ken Hyers said in a release. "But with three new 5G models coming next year, Apple merely needs to match its current upgrade rates for newly introduced iPhone models to take the lead next year."
The U.S. and China will be the biggest 5G markets in 2020, which will favor Huawei and Apple. Once a top player in China years ago, Samsung has faced stiff competition from local Chinese companies that now dominate the country's smartphone market. Smartphone shipments in the Middle Kingdom declined 3.6% to 98.9 million in the third quarter, according to IDC, with the top four vendors being Chinese brands led by Huawei; Apple was No. 5.
Longer-term, Samsung is expected to reclaim 5G leadership over time due to its strength across the broader smartphone market as more countries launch 5G networks. "As more markets cut over to 5G, Samsung will capture the majority of that share by virtue of its dominance of the overall smartphone market and a broader portfolio of 5G devices across more price-bands," Hyers added.
Apple received a slew of price target increases from Wall Street on Friday, including Wedbush slapping a new Street-high target of $325 based in part on the expectation that next year's iPhone will drive a "super cycle" in upgrades.