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Apple loses mantle as world’s biggest phone seller to Samsung as China sales drop

<span>Apple iPhone 15s on display in a store.</span><span>Photograph: Jonathan Brady/PA</span>
Apple iPhone 15s on display in a store.Photograph: Jonathan Brady/PA

Apple has lost its spot as the world’s biggest mobile phone seller after a steep sales drop as South Korean rival Samsung retook the lead in the global market share.

Samsung had been the biggest seller of mobile phones for 12 years until the end of 2023, when sales of Apple’s iPhone models overtook it.

Global smartphone shipments increased by 8% to 289.4m units during January-March, according to research firm IDC. Samsung won a 20.8% market share, beating Apple’s 17.3% share, which has been dented by slowing sales in China.

IDC said that Apple shipped 50.1m iPhones in the first quarter, down from the 55.4m units it shipped in the same period last year. It was the biggest drop in iPhone sales since Covid-19 lockdowns caused global supply chain chaos in 2022.

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Related: Samsung bets heavily on AI tricks to boost Galaxy S24 appeal

The drop in Apple sales, despite a growing global market, was partly ascribed to difficulties in China. Local rivals including Xiaomi and Huawei have put pressure on Apple and Samsung. At the same time, China’s government has moved to ban devices made by foreign companies from workplaces.

Apple is still the dominant player at the top end of the global smartphone market, and sales of the iPhone are its most important product. The company’s market value was $2.7tn (£2.16tn) on Friday, far ahead of every other smartphone maker and behind only Microsoft, which has been boosted by expectations of a boom in artificial intelligence.

However, the back-and-forth movement at the top of the market highlights the intense competition among smartphone makers for market share.

Xiaomi, China’s top smartphone maker, occupied the third position with a market share of 14.1% during the first quarter.

Samsung launched its latest high-end S24 models at the start of the year, helping it to increase sales. Samsung has bet heavily on AI features such as automatic phone call translation and video editing software to promote the S24 series.

Investors are hoping that Apple will give more details of its own AI capabilities at a developer conference in June. Apple has reportedly scrapped an effort to build its own electric car, partly to shift resources to working on AI.