Apple saw some healthy gains in smartphone shipments last quarter. But its rivals were considerably healthier.
Announcing its March-quarter results last week, Apple revealed iPhone sales of 43.7 million units. That number surpassed analyst expectations and showed a 16.8 percent rise over the 37.4 million iPhones sold in the same quarter last year.
The healthy iPhone sales put Apple in second place among its smartphone peers in terms of sheer numbers but in last place for most improved sales, according to data out Wednesday from research firm IDC.
Market leader Samsung shipped 85 million phones, a 22 percent gain from the same quarter in 2013. In third place, China-based Huawei shipped 13.7 million phones, a gain of 47.3 percent. No. 4 Lenovo saw the highest shipment growth at 63.3 percent, while LG took fifth place with a gain of 19.4 percent.
Over the same time, Apple's global smartphone market share sank to 15.5 percent from 17.1 percent. But Samsung and LG also saw their respective shares dip, while Huawei and Lenovo both earned a bigger slice of the pie.
Apple's growth came from robust iPhone demand in Japan as well as several developing markets. But the company still faces strong competition from Android rivals, notably those selling increasingly popular large-screened smartphones.
"Apple reached a new first quarter record, breaching the 40 million unit mark," IDC said in its latest report. "The company saw double-digit growth in Japan as well as across multiple developing markets, including Brazil, China, India, and Indonesia. Still, this made for the lowest year-over-year improvement among the leading vendors. What remains to be seen is when -- not if -- Apple's rumored large-screen models will arrive on the market, filling a gap in the company's portfolio that has been exploited by the competition."
Apple is expected to unveil at least one larger-screened iPhone in September. Recent reports claim that two new iPhones will debut this year -- one with a 4.7-inch screen, the other with a 5.5-inch screen. If those reports are true, the two bigger iPhones will certainly help Apple win more users and reclaim much of that lost market share. But its rivals won't just stand still, putting more pressure on Apple to keep up with the competition.
Overall, vendors shipped 281.5 million smartphones globally last quarter, up 28.6 percent from the same quarter last year but down 2.8 percent from the previous quarter. However, that small decline is par for the course.
"The first quarter of the year typically brings sequential retrenchment from the holiday spending of the previous quarter," Ramon Llamas, research manager with IDC's mobile phone team, said in a statement. "The small difference between the two quarters points to sustained strong demand, driven by emerging markets, low-cost devices, and the proliferation of 4G networks. If this is how we start the year, then we can look forward to another record-breaking quarter at the end of the year."