Apple Is the Only Gainer as Smartphone Market Shrinks Again in Q1 2022

Smartphone makers shipped nearly 9% fewer devices worldwide compared with the first quarter last year, IDC finds.

Ian Sherr Contributor and Former Editor at Large / News
Ian Sherr (he/him/his) grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, so he's always had a connection to the tech world. As an editor at large at CNET, he wrote about Apple, Microsoft, VR, video games and internet troubles. Aside from writing, he tinkers with tech at home, is a longtime fencer -- the kind with swords -- and began woodworking during the pandemic.
Ian Sherr
2 min read
Stack of phones

Worldwide turmoil is hitting the tech industry.

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The tech industry has wiggled its way into all our lives, making essential tools for life in the modern age. Still, the smartphone industry continued its recent shipment declines, according to data from IDC, falling to 314.1 million units shipped worldwide. That's a 9% drop from the same time last year and 3.5% lower than even analysts had expected.

There's a lot of very good reasons this is happening, IDC said. COVID-19 is forcing Chinese citizens into isolation, disrupting global supply chains at a time when Russia is continuing its unprovoked war against Ukraine. The resulting economic uncertainty is becoming a norm, making stock markets roil along the way.

"Things seemed to have taken a turn for the worse," Nabila Popal, a research director at IDC, said in a statement. "Consumer sentiment across all regions, and especially China, is broadly negative with heavy concerns around inflation and economic instability that have dampened consumer spending."

As a result, Popal added, companies are "adopting a more conservative growth strategy for 2022," which is analyst speak for "things are getting dour."

The news is unlikely to surprise anyone who's been watching the financial world lately. Major market indices have so far lost value this month, with the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite dropping nearly 12%. Meanwhile, tech companies ranging from Netflix to Amazon to Google parent Alphabet have reported glum quarterly earnings for the first three months of the year.

Though Samsung was once again at the top of the worldwide totals, with 73.6 million units shipped, it actually shrank by more than 1% from the same time a year ago. China's Xiaomi, in third place, tumbled nearly 18%. Fourth-place Oppo and fifth-place Vivo, also Chinese, fell nearly 27% and 28% respectively. 

Apple, whose iPhone 13 helped propel its quarterly earnings above expectations, was the only major phone maker to increase its shipments. IDC counted more than 56.5 million iPhones shipped, up more than 2% from the year prior.

But even Apple executives warned Thursday that COVID-19 lockdowns will contribute to supply shortages of up to $8 billion across its product line. "Our research tells us Samsung and Apple have navigated the supply chain situation a bit better than their competitors," Ryan Reith, group vice president with IDC's Worldwide Mobile Device Trackers, said in a statement.

People still need phones though, Reith said. "It's just a matter of when that demand resumes."