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Samsung's smartphone shipments to see first-ever annual decline

Chinese up-and-comers are taking a big bite out of the global smartphone market, much to the discomfort of market leader Samsung.

Weak demand for the Galaxy S6 lineup may trigger a drop in Samsung's smartphone shipments this year. Josh P. Miller

This could be a real downer of a year for Samsung, which looks headed for a first-ever drop in its annual smartphone shipments.

Market researcher TrendForce said Wednesday that it expects shipments of smartphones from the South Korean electronics giant to slip 1 percent from last year's level.

That would be a significant turn of events for a company that has made some of the most popular smartphones in the world and whose Galaxy line has vied mightily with Apple's iPhones as a top-of-the-line choice for consumers.

The writing has been on the wall. Samsung's smartphone sales and market share have been tumbling over the past couple of years, pushed especially hard by Chinese vendors such as Huawei and Xiaomi in the low-end to mid-range markets. Meanwhile, this year's flagship phones, the Galaxy S6 and the Galaxy S6 Edge , have failed to turn things around. Lackluster sales for the quarter ended June 30 contributed to Samsung's seventh straight drop in quarterly earnings.

That has led TrendForce to cut its projected shipments for the Galaxy S6 and the S series for 2015 to 40 million units from 55 million to 60 million previously. TrendForce said it also expects around 10 million units of the Galaxy Note 5 to ship by the end of December. Samsung is looking at total annual smartphone shipments of 323.5 million this year, according to TrendForce.

Huawei, meanwhile, has shipped 100 million smartphones this year, becoming the first Chinese smartphone vendor to reach that milestone, according to TrendForce. The firm expects Huawei's smartphone shipments for all of 2015 to grow by 40 percent over the previous year.

Even with the slippage, Samsung is clinging to the top spot among smartphone makers. For the quarter ended September 30, it remained No. 1 in the global smartphone market with a 24.6 percent share, TrendForce said. That stake, though, was down from 26.7 percent in the second quarter.

Samsung is still top dog, though its smartphone market share continues to shrink. TrendForce

For the quarter, Apple was in second place with a 13.7 percent share, down from 15.4 percent in the preceding quarter. Huawei was third, nabbing an 8.4 percent share, up from 7.5 percent.

Huawei is no longer trying to compete for just budget-minded buyers. In September, it rolled out the Mate S , a 5.5-inch-screened smartphone with pressure-sensitive capabilities similar to those of the 3D Touch on Apple's new iPhone 6S and 6S Plus, which also hit the market that month. The Mate S is priced on the high side, TrendForce said, "indicating that Huawei has ambition to position itself as the premier international brand."

Worldwide smartphone shipments are likely to grow by 9.3 percent this year, but then only by 7.7 percent in 2016, according to TrendForce. Developed markets such as the US and Europe have become more saturated, meaning there are fewer first-time buyers. That means smartphone vendors will have to compete more heavily to grab customers in emerging markets, such as Southeast Asia and India.

Samsung did not respond to CNET's request for comment.