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Business trends

China's Xiaomi surpasses Apple as world's No. 3 smartphone maker

Asia leads rankings as US giant falls out of top trio for first time in 10 years

A journalist stands next to a poster of Xiaomi Mi MIX Alpha surround-display 5G concept smartphone at a product launch event in Beijing.   © Reuters

TAIPEI -- China's Xiaomi has surpassed Apple for the first time to become the world's third-largest smartphone maker by shipments in the July-September quarter, edging the American tech giant out of global top three for the first time in 10 years, three key market data providers said.

The world's top three smartphone companies are now all from Asia, according to Canalys, IDC and Counterpoint Research. The latest statistics come as Apple on Thursday posted a 29% year-on-year drop in revenue in the Chinese market for the three months through September.

Xiaomi saw a 46% jump in shipments from a year ago for the three months ending in September, shipping 46.2 million handsets, Counterpoint said. Apple, on the other hand, logged a 7% drop in shipments year-over-year, selling 41.7 million iPhones in the July-September quarter.

Canalys said Apple saw a 1% decline in shipments while Xiaomi's surged 45% year-over-year for the same period. IDC said Apple's shipments dropped more than 10% while Xiaomi's grew 42%.

Xiaomi's milestone came as the global smartphone industry recorded a 4% decline in the same period as many consumers held off from buying a handset until the launch of the first ever 5G iPhone, which was delayed to mid-October. Xiaomi also benefited from the headwinds facing its biggest domestic rival Huawei Technologies, which is losing ground in the overseas market due to the U.S. crackdown on the company.

Xiaomi, once known as "China's Apple," has overtaken its American counterpart in smartphone shipments. (Source photos by Reuters) 

Xiaomi, founded in 2010 by Lei Jun, was nicknamed "China's Apple" early in its history, but later promoted itself as a data-centric internet company, introducing a wide range of connected devices, from smart TVs and wireless earbuds to smart speakers and smart lightbulbs. The Beijing-based smartphone maker has since made a name for itself by offering products with premium-specifications at affordable prices.

"Xiaomi moved aggressively to seize [market share] from Huawei," said Canalys analyst Mo Jia. "There was symmetry in Q3, as Xiaomi added 14.5 million units and Huawei lost 15.1 million. In Europe, a key battleground, Huawei's shipments fell 25%, while Xiaomi's grew 88% . . . Xiaomi took a risk setting high production targets, but this move paid off when it was able to fill channels in Q3 with high-volume budget devices, such as the Redmi 9 series."

But the analyst said Xiaomi still faces competition from compatriots Oppo and Vivo, which have grown to cover a wide range of price bands in Southeast Asia. They are now pushing into Europe, too, where they are positioning themselves more in the premium price range, potentially trapping Xiaomi at the low end of the market.

Samsung reclaimed its position as the world's top smartphone maker in the July-September period, data from all three providers showed, after the South Korean company was briefly overtaken by Huawei in the preceding quarter. Huawei came second in the September quarter, with a market share of around 14-15%, though according to IDC its smartphone shipments fell 22%.

Huawei's ranking could continue to fall, according to many market watchers, even though there are some signs that Washington is easing its restrictions by granting licenses to key display and sensor providers, including Samsung Display and Sony.

Xiaomi's overtaking of Apple, meanwhile, could be only temporary, as the long-awaited launch of 5G iPhones in the final quarter of the year could help the Cupertino-based tech giant bounce back in shipments.

The overall smartphone industry outlook is still turbulent, as a new wave of COVID-19 is hitting Europe and governments are grappling with whether to impose more widescale lockdowns that could further damage the economy.

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