For the first time ever, Chinese smartphone manufacturer Huawei has shipped more smartphones than either Apple (AAPL -0.74%) or Samsung, according to a report released by research firm Canalys. Huawei shipped 55.8 million devices in the second quarter, and while that marked a decline of more than 5% year over year, it was a better performance than either of its arch rivals. 

Canalys noted that this was the first quarter in nine years that a company other than Apple or Samsung led the market.

3 young people looking at smartphones and oblivious to each other.

Image source: Getty Images.

The pandemic has disrupted the status quo, and the unusual set of circumstances led to Huawei's current reign. "China has emerged strongest from the coronavirus pandemic, with factories reopened, economic development continuing and tight controls on new outbreaks," Canalys noted in the report. It also stated that the company has "taken full advantage of the Chinese economic recovery to reignite its smartphone business."

To give the current results context, Apple shipped 78 million iPhones in the 2019 fourth quarter, up 21% year over year. Samsung took the second spot, shipping 71 million smartphones, up 19%, while Huawei came in third shipping 56 million smartphones, an increase of 15%. 

In the first quarter, however, with the onset of the pandemic, there was a tectonic shift in the market, as global smartphone shipments declined 13%. Samsung was the market leader, but its shipments slipped 17%. At the same time, Huawei was the only company that managed to generate growth, increasing shipments by 9%, even as iPhone shipments slipped by 8%. 

It's important to note that Huawei isn't expected to retain the title for long, particularly once global smartphone demand recovers. U.S. regulators barred Huawei from using Alphabet's (GOOGL -4.44%) (GOOG -4.50%) Google software, which makes the phones less attractive to many buyers.