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Samsung Is Losing Market Share to Chinese Competitors

By Evan Niu, CFA – Jul 30, 2014 at 4:00PM

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The world's largest smartphone manufacturer by volume is losing market share to low-cost rivals.

Xiaomi Redmi. Source: Xiaomi.

This morning, market researcher Kantar Worldpanel ComTech released its latest estimates on the smartphone market. Unsurprisingly, Google Android remains, by far, the dominant smartphone platform in numerous key markets such as the U.S., Europe, and China.

Samsung has been instrumental in Android's global rise in recent years, as the South Korean conglomerate rose through the ranks to become the top smartphone vendor by unit volumes. However, Kantar Worldpanel ComTech's figures show that low-cost Chinese manufacturers are now driving Android growth. Specifically, Xiaomi, Huawei, and Wiko are making names for themselves in the low-end, particularly in the important Chinese market.

The newest up-and-comer
Xiaomi grabbed 27% of smartphone sales during the second quarter within urban China. The company's RedMi, a 4.7-inch phone with a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon processor and support for dual SIM cards, is winning customers over to the brand.

Kantar Worldpanel ComTech strategic insight director Dominic Sunnebo notes that Chinese consumers show a greater propensity to switch between brands compared to other markets, so there generally isn't much brand loyalty. The researcher's figures suggest that 12% of Samsung customers are interested in switching to Xiaomi for their next smartphone upgrade. Samsung currently has a 21.1% market share in urban China, lower than Xiaomi's.

What about Apple?
Apple is also seeing its market share in markets like China get hurt. Kantar estimates that Apple's share in urban China fell from 24.7% to 12.8% during the past year. That doesn't quite add up with Apple's own statements when it released earnings last week. CEO Tim Cook noted that Apple's performance in China was even "surprising" to management, as iPhone unit shipments grew 48%, and easily outpaced the market's 24% growth.

It's possible that semantic distinctions are the cause of the discrepancy. Kantar measures share in "urban China," while Apple looks at "Greater China," which includes mainland China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan.

In an interview with Reuters, CFO Luca Maestri said that low-cost vendors are primarily taking share away from other Android manufacturers instead of Apple. The iPhone maker remains very bullish on its recent partnership with China Mobile, with Maestri saying that Apple has "a really good runway" ahead.

A second opinion
Yesterday, IDC also put out its own estimates on the state of the smartphone market, and the researcher's findings largely echo Kantar's. Global unit volumes hit a new quarterly record of 295.3 million units, with low-cost smartphones driving unit shipments.

IDC notes that Samsung had a challenging quarter, which Samsung itself admitted in its recent guidance. Several Chinese handset manufacturers outpaced the broader market, particularly Huawei and Lenovo. Huawei nearly doubled unit shipments to 20.3 million during the quarter, and is currently the third-largest smartphone manufacturer in the world. Huawei is benefiting from China's transition from 3G to 4G, as wireless carriers recently launched 4G LTE networks, and are subsidizing upgrades.

Samsung remains the largest manufacturer by volume, but the company lost 7% market share to low-cost competitors. This is largely what Samsung warned shareholders about earlier this month when it said its low-end and mid-range channel inventories were swelling "as competition intensified among set makers in Chinese and European markets."

Evan Niu, CFA owns shares of Apple and Qualcomm. The Motley Fool recommends Apple, China Mobile, Google (A shares), and Google (C shares). The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple, Google (A shares), Google (C shares), and Qualcomm. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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