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The iPhone 12 is dominating the 5G market, despite Apple’s delayed entry

Updated Oct 18th, 2021 12:08PM EDT
iPhone 12 Sales
Image: Apple Inc.

When the first 5G phones launched in the first half of 2019, iPhone 11 rumors were already saying that Apple wouldn’t release a 5G phone along with everyone else. Apple had taken its time deploying 3G and 4G iPhones before, so there was already speculation that the first 5G iPhone would be late to the market. Apple’s main rivals launched several 5G devices in 2019 and 2020 until Apple finally introduced its first 5G iPhones in October.

Apple equipped all four iPhone 12 models with 5G chips, and the iPhone 12 series sold better than anything else available from the competition. The latest report to highlight the strong iPhone 12 sales focuses specifically on 5G devices, a market that Apple dominated since the first iPhone 12 models hit stores in late October 2020.

Strategy Analytics released a new research note that reveals Apple sold 52.2 million iPhone 12 units during the fourth quarter of the year, outperforming every other smartphone vendor that had already launched 5G-ready devices. That’s nearly 41% of the 5G market during a three-month period. Apple only had about two months of iPhone 12 sales in the December 2020 quarter.

This figure seems to dispel the notion that Android vendors that adopted 5G early had a massive advantage over Apple and that Apple had to bring 5G support to its iPhones to compete. The 4G-only iPhone 11 outsold its competitors in 2020, even though most of them featured 5G connectivity.

Strategy Analytics expects global 5G smartphone shipments to reach 624 million during 2021, up significantly from 269 million in 2020. Apple’s 52.2 million 5G iPhone sales during 2020 allowed it to capture nearly 20% of all 5G phones sold last year, despite announcing the iPhone 12 only in mid-October.

The Strategy Analytics report shows that Apple’s major rivals have been catching up in the first quarter of 2021, showing healthy gains compared to the previous quarter, at the expense of the iPhone 12 series.

“Samsung was the world’s fastest-growing 5G smartphone vendor in Q1 2021, leaping 79% QoQ to 17 million units shipped,” Associate Director at Strategy Analytics Ville-Petteri Ukonaho said in a statement. “Samsung is performing well with new 5G models, such as Galaxy S21 5G, S21 ultra 5G, and S21+ 5G, in South Korea, North America, and parts of Europe. Vivo was the second fastest-growing 5G smartphone vendor in Q1 2021, jumping 62% QoQ to 19 million units shipped, driven by its iQOO U3 5G and U7 5G smartphones. Vivo’s 5G smartphone strongholds are China and Europe. OPPO grew 55% QoQ, and Xiaomi increased 41% QoQ, both due to solid volumes at home in China. Meanwhile, Apple dipped 23% QoQ, following a blowout Q4 2020 where the new 5G iPhone was wildly popular as a gift during the holiday season.”

But even so, the iPhone 12 series topped 5G sales for the first quarter of 2021, with 40.4 million units sold during the period, or nearly 30% of 5G handset sales in Q1. Previous estimates have shown that Apple accounted for most of the profits in the smartphone business in the first quarter, with various of the iPhone 12 models topping sales.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.

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