US smartphone sales remained flat YoY in Q4 2021 as premium flagship devices were in short supply during the holiday season, according to Counterpoint Research’s latest data from its US Monthly Smartphone Channel Share Tracker. Strong holiday promotions in carrier channels, backorders due to supply constraints, delayed launches and in-store restrictions due to COVID-19 remained key highlights of the quarter.
Commenting on the market performance, Research Director Jeff Fieldhack said, “The US smartphone market was very competitive in Q4 2021. Carriers were aggressive with promotions to retain their smartphone bases. This contributed to continued record or near-record low smartphone churn among the major carriers. Specific to hardware sales, T-Mobile was the largest smartphone channel in the US and grew modestly YoY. Verizon was the second largest smartphone channel and was flat YoY. AT&T was the third largest channel and its smartphone volumes fell just over 4% YoY. The high promotion levels are likely to continue in 2022 and should keep demand for devices elevated, while headwinds are more likely to come from the supply side.”
Commenting on the shortages, Senior Analyst Hanish Bhatia said, “Carriers remained under pressure to secure smartphone supply, but regional carriers struggled the most, especially in the case of flagship devices. Overall, inventory remained at record low levels in Q4 2021. Android inventory improved on QoQ basis except for certain flagship devices. Apple inventory remained the leanest but managed to fulfill higher demand. The shortages also helped established OEMs, which have stronger relationships with suppliers, while smaller OEMs faced tough times.”
Carrier whitelabeled devices also had an impressive quarter, accounting for 8% of the total smartphones in the sub-$250 price band. AT&T remained the single largest white-label device brand, while T-Mobile’s REVVL-branded devices faced shortages during the fourth quarter. Visible and Boost Mobile also launched their first ever white-label devices — Visible Midnight and Boost Celero 5G. (See: Celero 5G emerges as best-selling device at Boost in December 2021).
Commenting on the prepaid market expectations, Research Analyst Matthew Orf said, “OEMs targeting the low-end and mid-range Android market have an opportunity to register substantial growth in 2022. 3G sunsets will force carriers to move subscribers onto new LTE and 5G devices. Dish and Verizon will also look to migrate newly acquired prepaid users to carrier partners or their own networks. Verizon’s acquisition of Tracfone and Dish’s acquisition of Gen Mobile, Republic Wireless and Ting will increase competition in national retail channels. This could help create new demand in the sub-$250 price band.”
Key OEM Highlights:
- Apple sales grew 17% QoQ with demand for the iPhone 13 series outpacing supply, especially for the Pro series models. The iPhone 13 Pro and Pro Max were on backorder much of December, with wait times lasting up to six weeks.
- Samsung sales grew 11% YoY. Several factors held back the brand’s sales, including shortages of the Galaxy S21 series devices and the delayed launch of the Galaxy S21 Fan Edition. But a higher mix of the A series and strong performance of foldables helped Samsung register YoY growth. The Galaxy A12 became the best-selling Android device in 2021.
- Motorola sold the largest number of smartphones in the US market in its history, beating its Q4 2019 performance. The brand benefitted from the demise of LG and its strong lineup of affordable devices. The Moto G Pure, Motorola’s first MediaTek-powered device in the US, was among the top three best-selling devices in the quarter.
- OnePlus sales were up 524% YoY as its Nord series devices continued to see success at T-Mobile and Metro by T-Mobile and received an added boost from Metro by T-Mobile and T-Mobile’s entry into over 2,000 Walmart locations.
- Google grew its sales 56% YoY with the launch of its redesigned Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro, featuring Google’s own silicon.
- Nokia HMD registered YoY gains with its first carrier-ranged device for T-Mobile and Metro by T-Mobile channels.
- Alcatel-TCL continued to have a strong grip on national retail channels. New device launches in T-Mobile, Tracfone and the first carrier-ranged device in Boost Mobile further strengthened its position among top Android OEMs.
Component shortages, ongoing inflation and the spread of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 along the supply chain will continue to pose challenges to the US smartphone market in early 2022. Inflation and component shortages will impact the low end of the market more significantly as OEMs prioritise the production of high-end devices.