Smartphone Market Performance in the Middle East in Q4 2020

New smartphones are released/unveiled close to Q4 of the calendar year. Q4 2020 proved to be slightly different especially with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Whether you’re an iOS or Android user (maybe even both like me), the IDC (International Data Corporation) has provided some insights with the latest Quarterly Global Mobile Phone Tracker report for the GCC region (Qatar, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, and Bahrain)

Market across the GCC

The overall mobile phone market of the GCC region experienced quarter-on-quarter (QoQ) growth of 8.2% in Q4 2020, totalling 5.38 million units. During the COVID-19 pandemic, consumer spending was mainly focused on essentials. This resulted in built-up demand and has been evident for iOS devices.

Overall smartphone shipments grew 2.3% QoQ to 4.26 million units, covering both iOS and Android-powered models. In terms of value, the smartphone market totalled $1.62 billion in Q4 2020, up 39.5% QoQ.

Feature phone shipments increased 38.3% to total 1.12 million, and its market value grew 22.2% over the same period to reach $19.2 million.

We know that the largest markets for smartphones in the Middle East are UAE and Saudi Arabia.

  • Saudi Arabia accounted for 49.4% of all smartphones shipped within the GCC region in Q4 2020. However, the Kingdom experienced an overall QoQ decline in shipments, with component and supply shortages impacting the lower-end devices of Android vendors.
  • UAE accounted for 26.1% of the region’s smartphone shipments and recorded QoQ growth thanks to the strong performance of Apple’s new releases. Mid-range models from brands like Samsung, Oppo, and Vivo were not impacted to the same extent by global component shortages.

5G became a standard with new models released in the final quarter of 2020. Hence, 5G devices accounted for 16.5% of all smartphone shipments across the GCC region in the same time period.

Apple grows but constrained

Apple devices saw a remarkable 55.7% QoQ increase in shipments in Q4 2020.

Akash Balachandran, a senior research analyst at IDC, clearly states that this can be attributed to the launch of the iPhone 12 series (standard and mini, followed by the Pro models). This also extends to the iPhone 11 series, which still proves to be popular in spite of the newer lineup replacing them.

The iPhone 12 series was unveiled in Oct 2020, with shipments followed after the Apple event.

Nobody envisioned that there would be a supply-chain issue on the components for both models, curtailing the maximum growth Apple would have experienced in the region.

Android among the OEMs

With Android clearly powering the majority of OEMs licensed to use the mobile OS from Google, it all comes down to which smartphone maker takes the largest share.

Samsung saw shortages of certain key models, leading to a QoQ decline in shipments of 4.1%. However, it still dominates the GCC region overall by 42%.

Samsung Galaxy S20 FE looked to take best of S20 but packaged into a better price.

The majority of Samsung’s portfolio continues to be made up of low-end and midrange devices, leading to a decline in the vendor’s overall value share. While the Galaxy S20 and Note 20 series likely didn’t yield the same results in the previous quarters, the Galaxy S20 FE proved to be quite a popular model due to its pricing.

Supply shortages saw Xiaomi post a very slight 0.9% QoQ decline in shipments. That placed them third in both units and value after Samsung and Apple, having effectively taken Huawei’s place in the smartphone market.

So you can easily group Oppo and other makers into the Others group.

Looking ahead to 2021

As we now enter Q2 2021, the GCC smartphone market is forecast to have experienced a minor 0.7% QoQ decline in shipments in Q1 2021. “Supply constraints will likely continue to hamper growth in the region due to chipset and component shortages across most smartphone brands in the first half-year,” says Ramazan Yavuz, a senior research manager at IDC.

Significant growth is expected in the shipments of 5G-enabled devices in 2021, particularly as they increasingly become available in mid-tier price bands among Android devices.

As Samsung actively promotes its Galaxy S21 series in the region, it still faces competition from other Android OEMs with a balance of price and specifications.

We can also expect an update to the iPhone SE to help upset the balance between Android OEMs.

Author: Yasser Masood

Think of me as a grassroots community evangelist. Juggling social media while covering technology/digital trends across the Middle East and crossroads of society and culture, while unearthing other perspectives that pique my interests.

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