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IDC reports shipments1 of new phones dropped 11.7 percent year on year in the first three months of 2020. That’s a total of 275.8 million phones.

It is the biggest year-on-year drop ever seen.

First quarter numbers are usually lower than the fourth quarter which includes all the phones purchased as Christmas gifts. The fourth quarter usually also captures sales of new phones immediately after the major product launches.

Yet this took place before phone buyers faced the full impact of the Covid–19 pandemic. Sure parts of China were closed down. And China does account for about a quarter of the worldwide new phone market. That’s going to have a huge impact.

Likewise, most of the world’s phones are made in China. Production and the pre-production supply chains were badly affected in the second half of the quarter.

It’s unlikely the current quarter will see much improvement. China may be back at work, but people elsewhere have been, many still are, in lockdown. That’s not great for phone sales. Nor is the economic uncertainty. That new phone sale is an easy expense to cut when the future looks tougher.

Samsung hit hard

While Samsung remains top dog with 58.3 million phones and a 21.1 percent share, it suffered the largest drop in shipments during the quarter. Year on year sales are down 18.9 percent.

There is good news for Samsung. IDC says the higher price of the Galaxy G20 phone means better profits.

Samsung has two important phones scheduled for launch later this year. The Fold 2 and the Note 20 are both likely to be expensive phones at a time when demand for pricey high-end models could cool.

Huawei better than you might expect

The political waves rocking Huawei’s boat have harmed phone sales less than you might expect. Year on year sales are down 17 percent. That’s bad, yet not as bad as Samsung.

Apple’s year on year sales were, in effect, flat with a 0.4 percent decline. This translates into an increased share of the overall market. It has 11.8 percent. The company’s success was mainly thanks to its iPhone 11, which in certain configurations is the most expensive non-folding handset.

IDC says that if the trend to lower price phones continues, and let’s face it that looks likely, Apple should have a hit on its hands with the iPhone SE.

What next?

To get an idea of how this quarter could go, Qualcomm, which makes chips for mobile phones, says it expects a 30 percent year on year drop for the current, second quarter. Given that it takes orders from phone makers ahead of manufacturing, it has a good handle on the market. That would be a huge drop.

IDC suggests a bright spot could be 5G. People need new handsets to use the faster wireless technology. It’s possible customers will trade up to 5G phones later in the year.

On the flip side of this, most users won’t notice any performance difference from switching to 5G. Data will download faster, but at the time of writing there are no mobile apps that can use faster data speeds.


  1. Shipments is industry talk for products that have left the warehouse en route for customers. While a shipment is not the same as a sale, it is close enough. Retailers don’t tend to carry huge inventories of product these days. ↩︎

Strategy Analytics, a research firm, says smartwatch shipments grew 20 percent annually to 14 million units in the first quarter of 2020.

Apple Watch remains the top brand. It has a tick over 55 percent market share. Sales of Apple Watch were up almost 23 percent during the year. There is the Apple Watch market and then there is everything else.

Samsung is a long way behind with almost 14 percent of the market. Its watch sales are also up, but only a shade under 12 percent. That means Samsung in particular, and Android watches in general, are losing market share.

Third place goes to Garmin, which you rarely hear of in New Zealand. It has eight percent of the market but saw sales increase by a whopping 37.5 percent. ‘Others’ make up 22.6 percent and, in market share terms, are falling relative to Apple and Garmin.

Huawei, which sells its own brand of Android watches and was early to the smartwatch market doesn’t appear to register in its own right. Count it among the ‘others’.

Phone up while PCs and phones languish

It’s interesting to see smartwatches are selling well. This is at a time when phone sales are plummeting and while there has been a temporary surge in PC sales, overall sales are, at best, flat.

The results underscore the recent trend which suggests Android struggles to break out of the phone sector. It may dominate mobile handsets, but has not successfully translated that success with either watches or tablets.

One key to this is that Apple understands how to build an entire support system about a product. The Apple Watch integrates with everything else Apple. You might, for example, use it to unlock your desktop iMac computer.

This integration and support system creates value for third parties to develop apps and complementary products. That’s not so much the case with Android watches. Yes, the watches overlap and integrate a little with phones, but pairing adds little value.

Apple iPhone SE 2020

Looking for mid-range phone? You’d need to be deep into Android or have an irrational Apple aversion to walk past the 2020 iPhone SE.

For a start it is a bargain at NZ$800. In effect, you get the brain of a 2020 iPhone 11 in the body of a 2017 iPhone 8.

That makes it competitive with a slew of mid-priced Android phones.

Android competitors

The same money would buy the somewhat ordinary Oppo Reno2. Spend another $50 and you could get a Samsung Galaxy S10e. Pay $100 less and you could have a Huawei Nova 5T.

That $800 buys all the power of a top level iPhone costing three times as much.

If you’ve put up with Android because the iPhone was out of your price range, the SE is a get out of gaol card.

It will also appeal to iPhone upgraders who have squeezed years out of earlier models.

High performance

Inside the case you get the same Apple A13 Bionic processor that is used in the iPhone 11. It’s not crippled in any way. You get all that power. It means apps perform much faster than on any other phone in this price range.

There is a small downside. The A13 Bionic processor chews through battery life. You’ll still get 24 hours between charges. The phone comfortably makes it through a working day with plenty left over for leisure. But it doesn’t have the iPhone 11’s ability to go two days without a charge.

Apple only includes a 5W charger in the box with the iPhone SE. That means it takes longer to charge than you might expect. If you have a compatible USB-C charger with a higher rating, it will charge the phone faster.

The iPhone SE does have Qi wireless charging. It’s a little slower than the 5W charger, but not noticeably so.

Apple iPhone SE 2020 colours

iPhone 8 body

Compared with the iPhone 11, the iPhone SE feels small and light. It weighs 148g compared with 194g for the iPhone 11. In practice that’s a bigger difference than you might imagine.

Physically it is much smaller than the iPhone 11. It fits comfortably in my hand and it is just about possible to operate one-handed. That probably means women and people with small hands will struggle.

The iPhone 8 body means you get the familiar home button. And there is Touch ID. It feels solid enough. That light weight, thinness and small size does not mean flimsiness.

Like the iPhone 8, the SE screen doesn’t extend to the top and bottom of the phone front. So there is no need for a notch.

Screen small by 2020 standards

By 2020 standards the amount of screen real estate left over is small. Most modern phones have a screen that extends across the entire front face.

The iPhone SE has a 4.7 inch display which is fine for everyday use. You could watch movies or streaming video, but this is not the best phone and certainly not the best iPhone for that application. Yet it is more than enough for FaceTime or other video calls.

If it’s more than three years since you upgraded you’ll find the design comforting, even familiar.

Usually reviews of mid-range phones talk in terms of compromise. The focus is on what you don’t get when you spend less. It might help to flip this logic on its head and think instead in terms of the extras, say, iPhone 11 buyers get that SE buyers down.

iPhone 8 camera

Apple has used what amounts to the same camera system found in the iPhone 8 in the SE. It is a single lens with a 12-megapixel sensor.

While the camera hardware hasn’t changed from the iPhone 8, the processor and software driving it has. You get all the processing power and intelligence of the iPhone 11.

There are times when it is hard to tell the difference between ordinary day time shots made on the two phones. The detail is good, colours are nicely reproduced.

Things start to diverge in low light conditions. Yet there is clearly more noise than you would find taking the same shot on an iPhone 11. The contrast is less striking and you may need to tinker a little to brighten up images.

The SE does well. You’ll be hard pressed to find a better phone camera at this price. It does especially well with video. You’ll notice the quality difference between this and an iPhone 11, but if you’re coming from any phone that is more than two years old you’ll take much better pictures.

All 2020 iPhones come with the same version of iOS. In this case iOS 13.4 was installed but upgraded to 13.4.1 during setup.

The main difference between using iOS 13.4 on the 11 and the iPhone SE boils down to using the home button instead of the flip up from the bottom gesture on iPhones without a home button. I found this hard going as I had become so used to the new user interface.

A couple of points not covered above. Like all modern iPhones, there is no headphone jack. Apple includes a pair of earbuds with a lightening connector in the box. You can, of course, use Bluetooth headphones with the SE.

iPhone SE 2020 verdict

Apple says the iPhone SE is winning customers from Android. I’ve also seen a lot of talk among New Zealanders who own older iPhone models but don’t want to spend $3000 on a flagship phone, upgrading to the SE.

Both stories make sense. This may not be the most exciting iPhone from a technology point of view, but it is the iPhone a lot of people have been waiting for. Not everyone wants a fancy top-of-the-line engineering marvel. Some people just want a good phone.

For now, it is the best mid-price phone deal on the market. You can’t buy more phone at this price. As it says at the top of this post, if you have $800 to spend on a phone, you’d need to have a good reason to dismiss the iPhone SE.

For the last four or five years camera upgrades have dominated new phone launches. Now Apple is doing the same with the 2020 12.9-inch iPad Pro which comes with added lidar.

The processor upgrade in the 2020 12.9-inch iPad Pro is incremental. Apple has done much more with the rear camera. Or, to be more accurate, cameras. The cluster includes two cameras and a lidar sensor.

For the last five years, phone upgrades have centred on beefed up cameras. This follows that path.

The iPad’s main wide angle camera is like the 28mm equivalent camera on the earlier 2018 12.9-inch iPad Pro. It has 12 megapixels. If there’s a performance difference, I can’t see it.

By tablet standards it’s still a great camera although it’s not as good as the camera on the iPhone 11. You wouldn’t expect that.

Apple 2020 12.9-inch iPad Pro ultra wide camera

 

 

Second rear camera

There’s also a 10 megapixel ultra-wide angle camera. It’s the first time the iPad has had a second camera. For the most part it helps the iPad Pro take better pictures in poor light conditions.

In practice the two cameras work together much of the time.

Taking pictures with a 12.9-inch iPad Pro is unwieldy compared with the iPhone. Using on screen controls also gets in the way. And it feels a bit odd standing there with a magazine-size device shooting images.

Wide-angle lens

The wide angle lens makes this even harder when focusing on near objects. That’s because a lever effect comes into play, so a small movement moves the camera target a fair distance.

No doubt there are enthusiasts who swear by the iPad Pro camera and do amazing things with it. For me, it is for opportunistic snapshots. I also use the iPad camera as a replacement for a scanner. It does a great job of capturing images sitting on my desk.

On the front of the 12.9-inch iPad Pro is a seven megapixel camera for selfies and video conferencing. It’s limited when compared to the rear cameras, but is great for FaceTime or Skype calls.

Video conference camera better than laptops

I’ve been using it while working from home. The picture quality is way better than you get on a MacBook or, for that matter, most Windows laptops.1

The only issue with the front camera is that sits at the top of the display when you hold the iPad in portrait mode. This is the same as the camera on an iPhone.

It makes sense when you are using the tablet as a tablet. Yet when it is sitting on your desk, perhaps with an attached keyboard, the camera is off the left hand side.

The software is clever enough to adjust the image so that when you look face on at the iPad in landscape mode, it centres your image. If you want to look people in the eye, you need to remember to stare at the lefthand edge of the display.

Measuring with lidar on a 2020 12.9-inch iPad Pro

Lidar

When Apple told me there was a lidar sensor, my first thought that it would gauge depth. This would help with photography. Although that’s possible and, in theory, could be a future software update, it’s not why Apple included the sensor.

For Apple, lidar is all about improving the augmented reality experience. You can use it to accurately measure the space around you.

The iPad has a new iPadOS measuring app that uses this. More often lidar is used in conjunction with augmented realty apps and games. You might, for example, have AR games characters running around your living room.

Lidar technology is used by autonomous and semi-autonomous cars to map the immediate world around them. The iPad version works up to 5 metres which is more than enough inside most homes, but is less useful out of doors.

There’s no question this technology is clever, but I consider it a nice-to-have feature. It is far from essential as things stand right now. That could all change with the arrival of new applications that make use of it. Nothing springs to mind, but if it did I’d be a wealthy software entrepreneur not a journalist.


  1. The iPad Pro video calling experience is vastly better than calling on any laptop. This alone could justify the expense of buying a 2020 iPad Pro. ↩︎

Apple iPhone SE 2020

Apple took the wraps of the 2020 iPhone SE this week.

It’s the second iPhone to carry the SE label. The new iPhone SE feels more up to the minute today than if Apple had launched it a couple of months earlier.

That’s because it is a lower cost iPhone. New Zealand prices start at $800 for a 64GB version.

Money is going to be tight for many people in the coming months. Phones are a necessity. There will presumably be less appetite for advanced features.1

The best stuff is under the bonnet

The price is lower. It is the cheapest new iPhone model now on sale. The outside resembles an iPhone 8. Yet the inside includes much of the technology found in premium models.

It’s not so much there are compromises. It’s more than the iPhone SE does not include the fancy high end features that bump up the price of a phone.

Apple could sell these by the container load. It looks like being the right product at the right time.

Bionic

In Apple’s words, the iPhone SE is ‘built on the chassis of the iPhone 8’. The processor is the A13 Bionic chip that powers the high-end iPhone 11 Pro. When that model was release only six months ago it was the most powerful phone processor on the market.

Going with the A13 Bionic chip in an $800 phone makes the iPhone SE excellent value. The chip handles many high end tasks. It works wonders with photography. Among other things, it means the phone can handle AI and augmented reality.

The rest of the specification is higher than you might expect. There is Wi-Fi 6 and support for gigabit LTE data traffic, although not 5G. That’s not the problem you might think it could be.

While 5G is being rolled out everywhere, there’s not much a phone user can do with 5G that they can’t do with 4G. Only hard core geeks would notice any difference.

The iPhone SE comes with dual sim and eSim support. There is wireless charging and fast charging. The base model has 64GB of storage.

This all adds up to a significant upgrade to anyone coming from a two year old iPhone.

Apple iPhone SE white

Smaller, hand-sized

One important aspect of the iPhone SE is its size. Most of the world is moving towards huge displays. Apple has stuck with a 4.7-inch screen. This means there is less viewing room, but it also means most people can use the phone one handed.

There has been talk about large phones being sexist as woman’s hands are smaller than men’s. Maybe. The reality is that most men also have to use two hands to drive a modern flagship handset. Heaven knows we even call them handsets under those conditions.

Some people will see the smaller screen size as a reason to avoid the SE. Many more will delight in having a more pocketable phone.

There are a couple of echos of older iPhone designs in the SE. It has a Touch ID button. This means there are large bezels above and below the display. High-end iPhones have not had these for a couple of years now. It’s unlikely anyone will view having Touch ID instead of Face ID as a compromise.

If there is a compromise, it lies in the camera technology. The iPhone SE has a single 12 megapixel camera. Android phones in the same price range tend to have two or three cameras.

Yet even here, things are not straight forward. Apple’s A13 Bionic chip is so capable and the software driving Apple cameras is now so advanced that, in practice, users won’t be at a disadvantage. For almost everyone in the SE target market, the new camera will be a significant upgrade.

Where the iPhone SE fits

The biggest danger for Apple is the iPhone SE will cannibalise sales of other models. There are Apple customers who bit the bullet and paid a king’s ransom for recent iPhone models because they needed the iOS integration more than the premium features they were also paying for.

Some iPhone buyers who were considering buying second hand may now reconsider. Apple dominates the second hand phone sector. The arrival of the SE may have a knock on effect that goes well beyond the iPhone world.

For all the reasons noted above, Apple has delivered the right phone at the right time. There will be other iPhone models later this year. Although that’s uncertain given events elsewhere. Yet the shine went off the premium phone market well before lockdown and economic uncertainty appeared.

It’s hard to judge how the market will turn out. Apple has enjoyed mixed success with lower priced iPhones in the past. Yet given the need to trim budgets while staying productive, the iPhone SE has turned up when it is most needed.


  1. Yes, you can pay less elsewhere and still get a good phone. There are huge productivity gains for people already invested in Apple to stick with iOS. ↩︎