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Samsung tops Apple in slowing smartphone market

Even though smartphone shipments are expected to be up this year, research firm TrendForce says the future doesn't look good: vendors will face "serious challenges" as demand plateaus.

Samsung and Apple are still at the top of the smartphone space, according to TrendForce. Josh Miller/CNET

Samsung was the most popular smartphone maker in the second quarter, but overall, the handset space looks to be a bit weaker than anticipated.

Smartphone shipments will grow 8.2 percent year over year in 2015, but that's down from an expected growth rate of 11.6 percent, research firm TrendForce reported on Monday. The firm said it revised the market's expected growth down due to a "negative economic outlook" worldwide and its belief that there will be less demand than anticipated for smartphones. Worse yet, that growth rate is far below what the smartphone space registered in 2014.

"Compared with the high 26.5 percent growth of 2014, this year's smartphone shipment growth is entering a plateau period," Avril Wu, TrendForce's smartphone analyst, said in a statement on Monday. "Therefore, vendors are likely to face serious challenges when shipping their products in the near future."

While not as aggressive, the slowdown reflects a similar issue being faced in the tablet market, where demand has fallen considerably. The concern for mobile vendors, at least for the time being, is that the mobile device market is starting to plateau as over a billion devices hit store shelves and customers worldwide are no longer voraciously buying up new devices.

In March, research firm IDC said it expects the tablet market in 2015 to grow by just 2.1 percent to 234.5 million units, down from its prior estimate of 5.2 percent. The firm noted that so-called "2-in-1" devices, which can be converted from a tablet into a notebook and back, will account for most of that growth. IDC, like other research firms that have predicted a significant slowdown in tablets, said the issues started in the fourth quarter of 2014, which saw "much lower [demand] than we expected."

The disappointing smartphone shipments estimate accompanied TrendForce's look at the smartphone market in the second quarter of 2015. The firm found that Samsung led the space with 26.8 percent of the market, topping Apple's 16.4 percent share. China-based handset makers Huawei and Xiaomi followed in third and fourth place with 7.6 percent and 5.9 percent market share, respectively.

TrendForce was particularly impressed by Apple's showing, saying that its market share was "a remarkably strong shipment result in the off-peak season." The firm noted that iPhone sales tend to drop in anticipation of the launch of newer models -- Apple is expected to reveal the next generation of iPhones in September. So far this year, that hasn't happened. In total, TrendForce said it expects Apple's total shipments in 2015 to be up 15 percent year over year.

However, TrendForce isn't so sure how Samsung will fare by the end of the year. While Samsung was the top vendor in the second quarter, the research firm's estimates show China-based vendors, including Huawei, stealing the "low- to mid-range product market." In total, the firm expects Samsung to have lower-than-expected shipments this year, totaling 45 million units.

"Samsung's ability to reverse its fortune may hinge on the success of its Galaxy Note 5," TrendForce said, referencing the expected launch of a new phablet from the company. "If this device is able to attract consumers with upgraded specs and new features, then Samsung will avoid the high possibility of negative shipment growth for this year."

In China, however, things are looking awfully bright for Huawei. TrendForce said that the company, which builds handsets as well as telecommunications technology, will be the first to reach 100 million units shipped this year, and will see its year-over-year shipments grow nearly 40 percent in 2015.