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The smartphone upgrade cycle - visualized

We tracked usage of the most popular devices from Apple and Samsung across the four quarters of 2018 to see if people still upgrade to the newer, more expensive models as often as manufacturers expect.

James Kielty - 23 Jan 2019
16 min read

In recent weeks we've seen both Apple and Samsung revise their revenue forecasts, leading to speculation on the death of smartphone sales, driven by "peak smartphone" and upgrade fatigue.

Despite the doom and gloom, sales of iPhones are still increasing in countries where they're favoured over Android rivals. While Tim Cook blamed poor sales in China, the truth is, Apple have a very low presence in many areas, such as India and Indonesia - the second and fourth most populated nations on Earth.

Earlier this month we asked why iPhone sales were underperforming, and the answer was - they aren't. They're just not performing where Android has a lead.

Samsung - who had their most profitable quarter ever in Q3 2018 - still expect sales of $52.5 billion in for Q4, 11% down on previous estimates.

While such figures aren't likely to create much sympathy in consumers, it's good to look at the data behind the headlines, which is exactly what we've done. We tracked usage of the most popular devices from Apple and Samsung across the four quarters of 2018 to see if people still upgrade to the newer, more expensive models, and whether either manufacturer is likely to suffer in 2019.

The smartphone upgrade cycle in the US

With 63.08% market share in the US, Apple devices dominate, and increased this lead by almost 6% over 2018.

As expected, use of the iPhone 8 and iPhone X increased steadily over the year, while the 6 and 7 both lost some ground due to the predictable upgrade cycle. As prices come down, and smartphones improve, this is inevitable.

The iPhone X has overtaken the 8, and now enjoys 0.5% more market share. In 2019, we expect to see the XS/Max and XR slowly but surely eat into the 6 and 7's share. However, given the popularity and performance of the latter, we could see the iPhone 7 remain as the USA's most popular smartphone for another year.

Across the OS divide, the Samsung Galaxy S9 almost reached 2% share from a very low starting position.

A definite negative for Samsung, however, is that the S6, S7 and S8 all lost share over the year, no doubt fuelled by the significant increase in overall iOS usage.


The UK

In our most recent iOS v Android market share analysis, the UK leaned 56.59% towards iOS, with Apple devices gaining an additional 4.69% share over 2018.

What we see below is the share of UK web traffic generated by the iPhone 6, 7, 8 and X over each quarter. We can see a slight decline in iPhone 6 usage, but still a healthy 6.02% in Q4.

What's interesting is the adoption of the iPhone 8 and iPhone X, with both rising steadily from around 2% share each at the start of the year to 5.2% and 4.18% by year end. September saw the release of the iPhone XS and XS Max, and both have gained some traction, but we're unlikely to see them impact the overall numbers until the first few months of 2019.

A testament to Apple's product support is the performance of the iPhone 7, easily the most popular phone worldwide in 2018. A slight 0.30% dip in usage across Q3/Q4 may herald the start of its decline, but for a device released in 2016 to still command such share is a fine thing, and possibly a contributing factor to Apple's recent revenue revisions.

On the Samsung side, what we see in the UK isn't hugely different to the iPhone charts. The newer, higher-spec models increase in usage, with the S6 and S7 both losing significant share.

In fact, the Galaxy S9 enjoyed similar uplift to the iPhone X, positive signs for the South Korean manufacturer. The S8 is still the most popular Samsung device in the UK, with 4.89% market share. A slight loss from Q3 could be a sign of the S9's performance, or a wider trend of some Android users switching sides to iOS.



Similar to the US in terms of iOS/Android split, Apple devices increased in popularity over 2018, gaining an extra 7.71% market share.

As a result, we can see strong gains for the iPhone 8 and X, with the iPhone 7 still remaining strong as the most popular smartphone in Canada.

The iPhone 6 lost a little over 2% during 2018, but still enjoys a healthy 7.41% share.