Samsung remained at the top of smartphone sales growth rankings in 1Q18 despite pressure from the Chinese brands, with Apple coming in at second place, followed by Huawei in third.
And Gartner says Samsung's smartphone growth rate will remain under pressure through 2018, with the Chinese brands' growing dominance and expansion into Europe and Latin America markets.
Global sales of smartphones to end users returned to growth in the first quarter of 2018 with a 1.3% increase over the corresponding period in 2017.
And nearly 384 million smartphones were sold in the first quarter of 2018, representing 84% of total mobile phones sold.
While Chinese brands Huawei and Xiaomi experienced the largest growth, Apple returned to growth after sales declined last quarter.
The delayed sales boost for Apple from last quarter materialised and its smartphone unit sales returned to growth in the first quarter of 2018, with an increase of 4% year-on-year.
"Even though demand for Apple's iPhone X exceeded that of iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus, the vendor struggled to drive significant smartphone replacements, which led to slower-than-expected growth in the first quarter of 2018," said Anshul Gupta, research director at Gartner.
"With its exclusive focus on premium smartphones, Apple needs to significantly raise the overall experience of its next-generation iPhones to trigger replacements and lead to solid growth in the near future."
Huawei's refreshed smartphone portfolio helped strengthen its No. 3 global smartphone vendor position, says Gartner.
"Achieving 18.3% growth in the first quarter of 2018 helped Huawei close the gap with Apple," Gupta said.
"However, its future growth increasingly depends on the vendor ramping up share in emerging Asia/Pacific and resolving issues in the US market, through the development of a stronger consumer brand. Huawei's attempt to grow its premium smartphone portfolio with its recent launches of the P20, P20 Pro and Honor 10 helps raise its competitiveness and growth potential.”
"Demand for premium and high-end smartphones continued to suffer due to marginal incremental benefits during upgrade," said Gupta, who also said that demand for entry-level smartphones (sub-$100) and low mid-tier smartphones (sub-$150) improved due to better-quality models.
But Gartner says that continued weakness in Greater China's mobile phone market also limited growth potential for the top global brands, including Chinese brands such as OPPO and Vivo, with more than 70% of their sales coming from Greater China.
Samsung's mid-tier smartphones faced continued competition from Chinese brands, which led to unit sales contraction year-on-year, Gartner said.
It said this was despite the earlier launch of Samsung’s flagship Galaxy S9/S9+ compared to the S8/S8+ in 2017, and despite the Note 8 having a positive impact on Samsung sales in the first quarter of 2018.
The report notes that Samsung is challenged to raise the average selling price of its smartphones, while facing increasing competition from Chinese brands that are taking more market share.
Statistics: courtesy Gartner