FRAMINGHAM, MA – The holiday season capped off another positive year of smartphone growth, despite concerns about the overall market slowing. According to preliminary data, smartphone vendors shipped a total of 428.5 million units during the fourth quarter, resulting in 6.9% growth compared to the final quarter of 2015, according to International Data Corp. Moreover, 2017 should see stronger growth, spurred by a rebound in the emerging markets.

For the full year, the worldwide smartphone market saw a total of 1.47 billion units shipped, marking the highest year of shipments on record, up 2.3% from 2015. Large markets like China, the US and Brazil ended the year on a strong note, helping keep worldwide volumes in positive territory.

"There's no question 2016 marked a memorable year for the smartphone industry in many ways," said Ryan Reith, program vice president with IDC's Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Device Trackers. "This was a year that brought us the first down year for iPhone, yet Apple closed out the holiday quarter by surpassing Samsung for the top spot in the smartphone industry. We also witnessed year-over-year declines in some emerging regions like the Middle East and Latin America where high growth was expected. To round it all off, we now have a three-horse race at the top of the market, as Huawei cracked the double-digit share mark for the first time ever."

Despite the changes 2016 brought, including annual growth dropping from 10.4% in 2015 to 2.3% in 2016, IDC expects a few turnarounds in 2017. First, IDC is forecasting a rebound in iPhone shipments with the yet-to-be-announced tenth anniversary iPhone.

Second, the Middle East and Africa (MEA) and Latin America regions are expected to return to growth in 2017. And, as a result of the aforementioned, as well as several other driving factors, growth in 2017 should improve slightly from 2016's results.

"As the two leading players continue to battle for the top spot, several Chinese vendors have solidified their position as valid contenders," said Anthony Scarsella, research manager with IDC's Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker. "The top three Chinese vendors (Huawei, OPPO, and vivo) are persistently applying pressure on Samsung within China thanks to a vast portfolio of affordable, well-built devices. Not only is this pressure coming at the low-end, but high-end devices like the P9, Mate 8, R9s, and XPlay6 have proven viable options for consumers looking to upgrade or save money without sacrificing quality. However, it is worth noting that despite the success of these brands within China, they will need to find growth beyond their home turf to eventually knock off either Samsung or Apple at the top."

Apple reclaimed the top spot thanks largely to the success of the new iPhone 7 and 7 Plus, says IDC. Despite a strong fourth quarter, 2016 marked the first full year of declining shipments for the iPhone, with a 7% year-over-year drop. Apple shipped a record 78.3 million units in the fourth quarter, up 4.7% from the same quarter one year ago.

Samsung dropped to second in the worldwide smartphone market, with shipments declining 5.2% compared to last year. The Korean giant shipped 77.5 million units in the fourth quarter, down from the 81.7 million units shipped last holiday quarter. On the year, Samsung shipped 311.4 million smartphones worldwide, down 3% from 2015. Despite the Note 7 debacle and growing pressure from Chinese vendors, Samsung still managed to find success with its S7 and popular J-series of devices in numerous markets. The challenging holiday quarter, however, did bring its worldwide market share below 20% for the first time in over four years, leaving no better time for the pending arrival of its next flagship product, the Galaxy S8, says IDC.

Huawei retained the no. 3 position, while gaining worldwide market share during the quarter. The quarter marked the first time the Chinese giant captured double-digit share, with 10.6% of the total shipment volume. Huawei shipped 45.4 million units during the period, up 38.6% year-over-year. For the year, Huawei shipped 139.3 million units, up 30.2% from 2015.

OPPO continued its push to reach the top of the market, with its fourth straight quarter of greater than 100% year-over-year growth. OPPO shipped 31.2 million smartphones in the holiday quarter, up 117% year-over-year.

Vivo remained the no. 5 vendor, with 24.7 million smartphones shipped during the quarter, up from 12.1 million in the last holiday season. Over the year, Vivo shipped a total of 77.3 million smartphones, up 103% year-over-year.

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