Apple isn't alone: 2018 was the 'worst year ever' for smartphone shipments, IDC says

  • IDC says 2018 was the "worst year ever" for smartphone shipments.
  • Shipments fall 4.1 percent for the year, back to volumes not seen since 2014 when shipments were still growing.
  • People are using phones longer, there's economic uncertainty and prices are rising, IDC says.
A customer views an Apple Inc. iPhone 5s at a Reliance Digital store, a subsidiary of Reliance Industries Ltd., in New Delhi, India, on Saturday, Nov. 2, 2013. Reliance Communications Ltd. is the first Indian carrier to sell Apples iPhone with a service contract. Reliance will offer customers the iPhone 5S and 5C a two-year contract with bundled data services. Photographer: Prashanth Vishwanathan/Bloomberg via Getty Images
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A customer views an Apple Inc. iPhone 5s at a Reliance Digital store, a subsidiary of Reliance Industries Ltd., in New Delhi, India, on Saturday, Nov. 2, 2013. Reliance Communications Ltd. is the first Indian carrier to sell Apples iPhone with a service contract. Reliance will offer customers the iPhone 5S and 5C a two-year contract with bundled data services. Photographer: Prashanth Vishwanathan/Bloomberg via Getty Images

2018 was the worst year ever for smartphone shipments, according to the latest figures from research firm IDC. It means Apple isn't the only company fighting to keep people interested in buying new phones every year.

IDC said 1.4 billion smartphones were sold in 2018, marking a 4.1 percent decline for the year in an industry that's accustomed to rapid growth. In 2014, as well, 1.4 billion phones were shipped, which means the industry seems to have regressed about 5 years. Shipments shrank 4.9 percent for the fourth quarter of 2018, IDC said.

Apple said earlier this week that iPhone revenues were 15 percent lower than last year. CEO Tim Cook said the strengthened dollar, an economic slowdown in China, lower subsidies on phones and its battery replacement program contributed to the drop in sales.

Samsung phone shipments declined 5.5 percent and Apple's slipped 11.5 percent during the quarter, IDC said. But Huawei, which was able to capitalize on China, saw a 33.6 percent bump in shipments. Chinese vendors Oppo and Xiaomi also increased shipments, IDC said.

"Globally the smartphone market is a mess right now," Ryan Reith, program vice president for IDC's Worldwide Mobile Device Trackers, said in the report.

Reith said consumers are using phones longer, which means that replacement cycles are lengthening. He also said consumers are frustrated with rising prices. Economic uncertainty and increased penetration in large markets are also slowing shipments, Reith said.

"China, which accounts for roughly 30 percent of the world's smartphone consumption, had an even worse 2018 than the previous year with volumes down just over 10 percent. High inventory continues to be a challenge across the market as is consumer spending on devices, which has been down overall. At the same time the top 4 brands, all of which are Chinese – Huawei, OPPO, vivo, and Xiaomi – grew their share of the China market to roughly 78 percent, up from 66 percent in 2017."