The iPhone SE is the highlight of a grim US smartphone market

iPhone SE back

  • US smartphone sales plunged 25% in the second quarter due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • The iPhone SE was a rare ‘bright spot’ in a tough climate.
  • The Galaxy S20, however, arrived at the worst possible time.

If you suspected that COVID-19 would seriously hurt US smartphone sales, you guessed correctly — although there are a few exceptions to the rule. Counterpoint Research estimates that US smartphone sales declined 25% year-over-year in the second quarter of 2020 as the pandemic took hold, but it’s now clear that some phone makers fared better than others.

Apple performed relatively well despite the grim climate. While its sales reportedly dropped 23% compared to Q2 of 2019, the new iPhone SE was a “bright spot,� according to the researchers. It helped Apple grow sales as the quarter progressed, and even managed to attract a “higher than normal� number of converts from Android. About 26% of iPhone SE buyers came from Android devices.

Other companies’ fortunes were mixed. Samsung’s sales only dropped by 10%, helped in part by strong online sales, but the Galaxy S20 series launched right as stores closed and states entered lockdowns. S20 activations in the first four months after launch were 38% lower than for the Galaxy S10 a year earlier, Counterpoint said. The analysts predicted that some S20 sales would come back in the third quarter, but others would be “lost� for good.

Counterpoint saw signs of a possible turnaround.

It wasn’t pretty for most other large brands. Alcatel (aka TCL) saw a mild 11% drop thanks to its focus on prepaid sales and government-subsidized programs like Lifeline, but some competitors weren’t so fortunate. LG’s sales fell 35%, while OnePlus, Motorola, and ZTE all saw their sales plummet by over 60% in the period.

Counterpoint saw signs of a possible turnaround. Stimulus checks and store reopenings helped satisfy “pent-up demand,� the research firm said. June smartphone sales were even higher than they were a year earlier.

With that said, there are some unknowns. The COVID-19 surges in some states have led to stores closing again, and it’s not clear how potential second waves of the virus might affect sales toward the end of the year. This could be the worst blow to phone sales during the pandemic, but it could also be the prelude to another crisis in the months ahead.

Next: Every major tech event canceled or postponed due to COVID-19

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