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Android Market Share: The Fight for Mobile Leadership

Android Market Share

It’s been more than a decade since Google introduced Android, the Linux-based open-source operating system for mobile devices. Android market share has soared to a commanding 76% compared to 22% for Apple’s iOS. In 2017, Android passed Microsoft Windows and became the most widely used operating system in the world.

The mobile operating system’s displacement of Windows is especially sweet, given Android’s original purpose.

Most people suppose that Android was created as a competitor to Apple’s iOS. But the Android team’s true target was Microsoft. 

The story starts in 2005 with the introduction of the Motorola Q, a portable phone that used Microsoft’s Windows Mobile operating system.

Google feared that PC history would repeat itself in the mobile market, with mobile phone market share dominated by Microsoft. To prevent Microsoft from owning a second market, Google’s leaders purchased a company called Android Inc., which was working on a Linux-based open-source operating system. The goal was to prevent Microsoft from achieving monopoly status in the mobile market.

To say that Google succeeded would be an understatement.

Android devices rule the smartphone market in most of the world. (The United States, home of Apple, is the notable exception.) Google, not Microsoft, is now the company most likely to achieve monopoly status in mobile OS market share. Microsoft has completely fallen out of the picture: Support for its Windows-based smartphone operating system will end before 2020. 

Even if Android achieves monopoly status, the battle for power within its borders has no clear winner. In fact, the number of competitors for shares of the Android market has never been higher. Nor has the fight to win customers been quite this fierce. If you’re wondering just how the Android landscape looks as of 2019, then look no further. Here is a detailed look into the ongoing fight for the throne of this massive global empire.

Top Android Companies by Market Share

1. Samsung

The absolute ruler of most of the world’s Android mobile markets, Samsung has reaped the glory and the benefits of being the world’s largest phone manufacturer for a decade. But the shine of its golden years seems to be dimming. The 2016 crisis over the Galaxy Note 7 and its tendency to start fires was a big hit for the South Korean giant. And the launch of the Galaxy S10 has been less than impressive. Samsung’s second-quarter 2019 financial report indicates that the mobile division’s profits have fallen 42% year-on-year, even though revenue was up 8% from Q2 2018.

Still, there is good news for the South Korean company that intends to remain the Android global market share leader for another decade. Samsung holds 44.8% of the worldwide market share for smartphones, far ahead of the next biggest competitor. The company is enjoying record sales in Europe, where its share of the smartphone market increased by almost 7% this year and sales of mobile devices grew by 3 million units.

Samsung’s focus on growing market share over short-term profits is a smart tactical move. The company is in a perfect position to reduce prices and grab market share because a major competitor, Huawei, is facing uncertainty due to the US-China trade war.

Samsung is playing the numbers in the United States too. In America, Samsung Android market share rose from 22% to 28% from Q4 2018 to Q1 2019. Apple phone sales dropped by 20% during the same time period, giving Samsung its first real chance to overtake America’s favorite smartphone maker on its home court.

All in all, 2019 is shaping to be a good year for Samsung. Management is confident that new and emerging technologies like 5G and foldable phones will inspire user interest. No one is in a better position to reap the benefits of the new generation of Android devices.

2. Huawei

Huawei is the most intriguing name on the Android phone market share list of competitors. The Chinese company has enjoyed unprecedented growth in recent years, rising from 5% of the smartphone market in 2014 to more than 19% just five years later. Huawei is the only one of the largest manufacturers that increased phone sales in 2018, rising from 39 million devices to 59 million by Q1 2019, the far-eastern giant is in a most precarious position.

By Q2 2019, Huawei had gained 12% of the Android market share worldwide. But we cannot be sure the company will keep using Android as its operating system. Before recent escalations in the US-China trade war, Huawei was on track to surpass Samsung in smartphone unit sales, even though its phones are not marketed in the US at all. After the Trump administration labeled Huawei a threat to national security and banned its devices, Google and other American tech firms have stopped doing business with the company. It has been hit hard.

Concerns about the trade war are likely behind Huawei’s disappointing performance in Europe, as well. Samsung took advantage of uncertainty about Huawei’s future to nab market share. As a result, Huawei’s share of the European market has dropped from 22.4% in Q2 2018 to 18.8% in Q2 2019.

Huawei may be losing market share in the west, but it is boosting sales in its homeland. Chinese Android device market share statistics suggest that citizens are purchasing Huawei devices from a patriotic perspective now, and the Chinese government is subsidizing people who are willing to switch from their American devices to Huawei phones. Sales of Huawei devices in China grew 31% from the first quarter to the second quarter of 2019.

Insecurity about the trade war and access to Android code libraries has led Huawei to begin work on its own operating system. The company has made hints about a proprietary OS since it was first probed by the US Government in 2012. Those efforts have now shifted into high gear. Chinese media outlets say Huawei phones with a new operating system called Harmony ship by the end of 2019. This development may have a large impact on the overall state of mobile operating system market share statistics.

3. Xiaomi

Xiaomi’s name is a reference to a Buddhist adage suggesting that a single grain of rice, to a Buddhist, is as big as a mountain. The company’s philosophy seem to follow this idea of starting small but aiming high. Xiaomi is often called “China’s Apple,” as it focuses on providing slick, minimalistic products. The company never advertises in traditional ways. Nor does it have a single physical store outside of China. Even so, it managed to grab 7% of the world’s Android market share in 2019.  

That’s a more impressive feat than it appears. Like other Chinese phone makers, Xiaomi has virtually no presence in the United States. 

Xiaomi hasn’t shipped as many phones as Samsung or Huawei, but its year-over-year sales growth percentage tops the list. During the first quarter of 2019, Xiaomi sold 33.2 million devices – Apple sold only 38.5 million.

Xaomi owes its success to word-of-mouth recommendations and its low prices, which it sustains by capping profit margins at 5%. The cap means that Xiaomi can continue to offer new products without increasing prices as competitors to. That’s one of the reasons Xiaomi is surging in Europe, where it holds Android smartphone market share of 9.6%, and why its phone sales are up 48% from last year. If it manages to survive the storm of the trade war unscathed by the bans that are damaging Huawei, Xiaomi may become an even bigger threat in the next few years. 

4. Oppo

Like other Chinese smartphone makers, Oppo has enjoyed a recent bump in Android market share. At the end of Q2 2019, Oppo held 7.4% of Android version market share worldwide. It shipped 28.1 million devices during the quarter.

Oppo retained its market share despite trade tensions between China and the US by shifting its focus to Southeast Asia. Countries like the Philippines, India, and Vietnam have seen huge marketing pushes from Chinese companies like Oppo. They hire local celebrities and do everything they can to build brand recognition. This pivot toward customers close to home is both an investment in rising economies and a safety measure against further US actions against Chinese tech.

Oppo, Huawei, and Xiaomi account for two-thirds of Android manufacturer market share in China and India. The goal is to achieve the same throughout Southeast Asia. This is exactly where Oppo has seen it best results. Oppo’s market share increased by 49% in Southeast Asia during Q2 2019.

Oppo’s most significant growth has been in Indonesia. During Q2 of 2019, Oppo dethroned Samsung as the market leader in this country of 260 million, achieving 26% market share. Samsung’s Indonesian sales grew 10% compared to the same quarter last year, but Oppo boosted sales by 54%. There’s no way to compete with that.

5. Vivo

Yes, another Chinese phone maker. Chinese companies represent 42% of Android market share worldwide. That’s not only a record number, but a most impressive feat too. China’s smartphone industry had been lagging for years, and now it produces and sells more phones than any other country in the world. 

Vivo is the fourth-largest company from China on our list, but it does not lag far behind the competition. In fact, it is tied with Oppo at 7.6% of Android global market share even though it sells slightly fewer phones overall. Vivo shipped 27 million devices during Q2 of 2019. It is in fact the only vendor other than Huawei that managed to boost shipments in the first quarter of 2019, and it continued that trend in the second quarter while others foundered.

Like other Chinese phone makers, Vivo is making inroads in emerging markets like India, where it invested substantially on marketing with the Indian Premier League for cricket, which is massively popular there. This and other large marketing campaigns have delivered huge benefits to Vivo, which first doubled its India Android market share in 2018, going from 5.8% in Q1 to 12% in Q2 of the same year. In 2019, Vivo has grown even more, reaching 15.1% of India’s 450-million consumer market.

The Next Generation of Connectivity

As tensions between economies and the looming threat of a global recession continue to worry economists around the world, there is another conflict playing out behind the scenes: the race to 5G. The next generation of mobile technology is poised to be the most disruptive of all. The technology promises to deliver a richly interconnected world of men and machines, and smartphones will be the thread that binds it all together.

The introduction of 5G smartphones means that the market is likely to see a big boost in phone sales. The upcoming fight for producing the most popular Android phones by market share will be of utmost importance, and the company that manages to grab 5G leadership could maintain its advantage for a decade. If political issues persist and American distrust of Chinese 5G technology remains high, the company most likely to profit most is the current leader of the market.

Samsung is more than willing to take an even larger piece of the pie, especially as Apple seems to be pivoting toward services. The richest market in the world seems to be Samsung’s for the taking. If current trends are sustained, the company could place its next model on the iPhone’s throne. 

The market is also seeing a resurgence of old-guard companies. LG and Motorola have retaken a significant part of US Android market share. These companies might take advantage of 5G-based market disruption and play a bigger role in the new smartphone world.

China’s companies seem to have put the American market on the back burner for now. While there is certainly a push to grab some of the European market, they are likely to continue to focus on India and Southeast Asia. The booming African continent seems to be a growth market for China too.

Constant Change is Here to Stay

This year, geopolitical tensions brought instability and opportunities to the mobile market. Giants are faltering as upstarts nurture growth in new markets. The result is volatility and uncertainty in Android market share rankings.

Tensions between the world’s largest countries and the battle for digital supremacy will surely bring further changes to the industry. A list of the biggest smartphone manufacturers might  look very different in a couple years. Will Apple rise once more to reignite the Android vs iOS market share battle? Will China switch to its own operating system and leave Android behind? Will Samsung maintain its focus on smartphones or turn to other consumer electronics products? All of these are significant and relevant questions.

For now, the battle for the top spot rages on.

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