Apple destroyed all its US rivals in 2023, but the unlocked phone segment has a different leader

As surprising as it might have been for a lot of people to see Apple top the global smartphone sales chart for an entire year for the first time ever in 2023, you will definitely not be shocked to hear how the company ruled its homeland.

The US handset market has long been the iPhone family’s most fertile ground, but even with that in mind, it can’t be overstated how impressive it is for Apple to sell more than one in two smartphones across such a large and financially prosperous nation.

Weak market, strong leader

According to the IDC’s latest “Region Spotlight” report, Apple accounted for no less than 51.9 percent of total smartphone shipments stateside last year, boosting its market share from an already dominant 47.6 percent in 2022. If our math is correct, that’s close to 68 million iPhones sold in one country alone over a period of 12 months, which itself marks a solid year-on-year increase of 1.4 percent.

The market as a whole declined by 6.9 percent in 2023, mind you, ending the year with a tally of 130.6 million units, which only makes Apple’s achievement that much more remarkable. In second place, Samsung dropped a staggering 19 percent compared to 2022 as far as shipments are concerned, which naturally caused a dip in the company’s market share as well from 25.7 to 22.4 percent.

Interestingly, Samsung‘s performance was still solid enough to strengthen the US market’s duopoly, as the combined share of the nation’s top two vendors jumped to a new all-time high of 74.2 percent. That’s definitely not good news for… everyone else, although one “tier 2” brand did somehow manage to push its smartphone sales numbers up in the US between 2022 and 2023 as well.

Can you guess the name of that rising vendor? No, it’s actually not Google, Motorola, or OnePlus but rather TCL. The China-based tech giant behind a lot of ultra-low-cost handsets available in the unlocked channel, as well as from prepaid carriers, gained a cool 8.1 percent in shipments last year. 

Oddly enough, the International Data Corporation (IDC) is ranking TCL behind Google in the 2023 US vendor chart, which appears to be a typo. Google’s Pixels, meanwhile, are said to have declined in sales and jumped in market share, which doesn’t make a lot of sense.

Hello, Moto!

Leaving this puzzling bit of the report aside and moving to the unlocked segment of the US smartphone market, we find Motorola and not Apple or Samsung in first place. That’s certainly a little unexpected, once again highlighting the power and influence of US carriers and carrier-specific offers on a lot of consumers.

Clearly, Motorola is dominating a tiny piece of the market that Apple is probably not particularly interested in. Still, it’s… unusual to see any US smartphone chart led by an Android brand, with another Android brand occupying second place.

Another interesting but far from surprising aspect covered by this new IDC research is the significantly greater popularity of low-end models compared to “premium” phones as far as unlocked sales are concerned.

Premium devices priced above $800 are however more successful than mid-rangers typically available for anywhere between $400 and $800, which is definitely a good sign for the likes of Apple and Samsung and their overall (regional) profit margins.

The region’s unlocked ASP (average selling price) has also risen steadily over the last four years, possibly due in part to the stronger and stronger performances of brands like Motorola, Google, and OnePlus in the high-end segment. The IDC is not making any predictions today on the future evolution of the US smartphone market, but like the global mobile industry, that was widely expected to stabilize and perhaps even return to (modest) growth this year.

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