Smartphone shipments in China dropped to 91 million units in the first quarter of 2018, representing the largest single quarter decline on record. This is the first time since the end of 2013 that shipments have fallen below 100 million units.

Technology market analysis firm Canalys said eight of the ten major smartphone manufacturers were hit with annual declines. The company said the record-breaking slump is due to rampant imitation resulting from intense competition in the market.

Chinese smartphone shipments 2012 -2018 (Image Credit: Canalys)

Smartphones manufacturers Gionee, Meizu, and Samsung were hit the hardest. All three vendors’ shipments fell to less than half of their respective Q1 2017 numbers.

Samsung was recently banned from selling a number of its handsets in China after a court ruled that it had infringed on Huawei patents. Even so, Huawei saw a 2% decline in shipments after overtaking Apple to become the world’s second-largest supplier of smartphones in September 2017. Oppo and Vivi also had a bad quarter, with both suppliers experiencing a 10% decline in shipments.

Xiaomi was the only manufacturer to defy the trend, growing its shipments by 37% to 12 million units. The company overtook Apple to become the country’s fourth-largest smartphone supplier.

“Xiaomi is the only vendor in the top-5 that is focused on the sub-RMB 1,000 (about $160) price segment and it owes close to 90% of its shipments to Redmi,” said research analyst Hattie He. The company is trying to shake its budget smartphone image and recently announced it would limit its net profit margins from its hardware sales to 5%.

China’s smartphone market by shipments (Image Credit: Canalys)

The Chinese smartphone market is increasingly dominated by Huawei, Oppo, Vivo, and Xiaomi. All four companies saw their market shares increase, while other manufacturers, including Apple, lost footing.

Despite the decline, analysts expect the market to recover with the launch of flagship phones from Oppo, Vivi, and Huawei in the second quarter of 2018.

Christopher Udemans is TechNode's former Shanghai-based data and graphics reporter. He covered Chinese artificial intelligence, mobility, cleantech, and cybersecurity.

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