Apple and Samsung have topped the smartphone market for 9 years. Now there’s a new leader

July 30, 2020, 8:35 AM UTC

China’s Huawei Technologies toppled Samsung in the second quarter to become the world’s largest smartphone company based on shipments, according to a report from Canalys, a market research firm. Huawei had already surpassed Samsung in monthly sales in April and June, but its Q2 results mark the first time in nine years that neither Apple nor Samsung have held the top spot.

“Our business has demonstrated exceptional resilience in these difficult times,” Huawei said in a statement. “Amidst a period of unprecedented global economic slowdown and challenges, we’ve continued to grow and further our leadership position by providing innovative products and experience to consumers.”

In fact, Huawei clinching the top spot has more to do with decline than growth. According to Canalys, Huawei shipped 55.8 million devices in the second quarter, down 5% from the same period last year. Samsung sales, however, plunged 30% over last year to 53.7 million units.

“If it wasn’t for COVID-19, it wouldn’t have happened. Huawei has taken full advantage of the Chinese economic recovery to reignite its smartphone business,” says Canalys Senior Analyst Ben Stanton. Huawei sales in China—the first global economy to enter post-pandemic recovery—increased 8% in Q2 while its international shipments dropped 27%.

Huawei is still facing major headwinds from the U.S. that have dampened the brand’s international sales. Since 2019, the Commerce Department has prevented Google from providing Android services to Huawei, forcing Huawei to ship models that run without Google apps.

The loss of Google has made Huawei smartphones less appealing in Europe and other international markets. Back home—where Google was never a factor—Huawei’s 8% growth actually bucked the national trend. China smartphone sales fell 17% year-on-year in the second quarter, according to market analysts Counterpoint, although sales did rise 9% quarter-on-quarter.

In the months from April to June, Huawei captured 46% of the China market—its highest share to date—and an even larger 60% of total 5G phone sales. Counterpoint says a third of all China’s smartphone sales in Q2 were 5G-enabled.

If the rest of the world is able to escape the worst days of the pandemic, the Chinese telecom manufacturer will likely struggle to maintain its position as global market leader. Apple’s 5G-enabled iPhone 12 is due for launch this year, which might pose a challenge to Huawei’s dominance, despite Huawei passing Apple as the world’s second largest smartphone supplier in 2019.

This article was updated to show Huawei shipped smartphones without Google apps. A previous version incorrectly said the phones ran on Harmony OS.