The smartphone market declined for the first time EVER; Samsung still on top

The global smartphone market declined for the first time as major countries like China continue to mature, according to a report.

Global smartphone shipments fell 3 percent year-on-year in the first quarter of 2016 to hit 335 million units, according to a Strategy Analytics report on Wednesday.

A number of other research firms also came out with their own numbers which weren't as grim but still showed no growth in smartphones sales. According to IDC, vendors shipped a total of 334.9 million smartphones in the first quarter, a 0.2 percent year-on-year rise. In the fourth quarter of 2015 smartphone sales were 5.7 percent up on the same period in 2014. Meanwhile, Counterpoint said growth was flat.

"Smartphone growth is slowing due to increasing penetration maturity in major markets like China and consumer caution about the future of the world economy," Linda Sui, director at Strategy Analytics, said in a press release.

Samsung ahead

Samsung shipped between 78.6 million and 81.9 million devices in the first quarter, gaining market share of between 22.8 percent and 24.5 percent, taking into account estimates from all three analytics firms. Counterpoint says the South Korean electronic giant's shipments fell 5.6 percent while IDC said the decline was about 0.6 percent year-over-year.

Apple took second place in the same period, shipping 51.2 million iPhones and taking a market share of between 15.3 percent and 17.8 percent. This was down from the 61.2 million iPhones the company shipped in the same period of 2015, the biggest decliner in the top five smartphone vendors. Apple reported fiscal second-quarter earnings earlier this week, with analysts disappointed in the iPhone numbers. Apple still took 40 percent of the revenues in the global smartphone market, according to Counterpoint.

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Chinese electronics and network giant Huawei was hot on the heels of Apple and saw shipments rise between 58.4 percent and 62.3 percent in the first quarter, according to the research firms. It has a roughly 8 percent market share. Huawei has been on an aggressive expansion drive to tap markets outside of China and challenge Apple and Samsung in the high-end. The company recently released its flagship P9 smartphone and told CNBC in February that it will surpass Apple as the second-biggest smartphone player in the world in three years and leapfrog Samsung by 2021.

Xiaomi, once the fastest-growing smartphone player, suffered a decline in shipments. The first quarter was marked by the surprise entry of two relatively young and unknown players into the top five – OPPO and Vivo. OPPO's shipments grew 153.2 percent while Vivo's surged 123.8 percent, according to IDC. But these brands are still fairly small globally and will need to enter major markets to compete with the top three vendors, analysts said.

"Outside of China, many of these brands are virtually unknown and the ability of these rapidly growing Chinese vendors to gain entry into mature markets such as the United States and Western Europe will be essential if they have aspirations of catching Apple or Samsung at the top," Anthony Scarsella, research manager with IDC's mobile phone team, said in a press release.