Samsung Electronics, the global leader in mobile-phone sales, is being outflanked in the key markets of China and India by newcomers catering to domestic tastes.
Xiaomi became the largest smartphone vendor in China during the second quarter, while Micromax Informatics topped Indian mobile-phone shipments, according to data from research firms this week. In both cases, Samsung fell to No. 2.
Earnings and shipments at Samsung are shrinking as consumers increasingly look past its Galaxy devices to local makers selling inexpensive phones. Xiaomi keeps prices down by selling through its website and tapping social media to create Apple-like buzz, while Micromax offers models with longer battery life and dual-SIM capacity in a market where wireless carriers don't subsidise phones.
"Xiaomi and other smaller players in India are catching up very fast," Cho Woo Hyung, a Seoul-based analyst at Daewoo Securities, said by phone on Tuesday. "If you lose market share, it's hard to get it back, so Samsung will continue to churn out as many handsets as possible to retain its dominant share in the smartphone market."
Xiaomi became No. 1 in China by shipping 15 million devices in the second quarter, giving it a 14 per cent share of the market, researcher Canalys said in a statement on its website. Samsung shipped 13.2 million smartphones, giving the Suwon, South Korea-based company 12 per cent of the market.
Making it to the top in the world's biggest market caps a rapid ascent for Xiaomi and its founder, Lei Jun. The Beijing-based company, which was only founded in 2010, is targeting 10 countries for expansion, including India, Brazil and Russia.
China accounted for 108.5 million smartphone shipments in the second quarter, or about 37 per cent of the global total, according to Canalys. Lenovo Group was the third-largest vendor in China during the quarter with 13 million shipments.
Apple, which boosted shipments 58 per cent after its iPhones started to be offered by China Mobile, is the only other foreign vendor in China's top 10.
"Xiaomi does have the potential to be a disruptive force beyond China and international vendors should take note," Jessica Kwee, Singapore-based analyst for Canalys, said in the statement.
Lei set a target to boost phone shipments to 100 million units next year. Xiaomi teamed with India's Flipkart.com to start selling its Mi3 device last month for a starting price of about $230. The company's media office didn't immediately respond to an email seeking comment.
Xiaomi Mi3. Photo / Twitter @Yahya_Roxstar
Micromax led the Indian mobile phone market for the first time in the second quarter, accounting for 16.6 per cent of shipments, compared with Samsung's 14.4 per cent, Counterpoint Research said in a statement on its website. Microsoft's Nokia was in third place followed by local producer Karbonn Mobiles.
Micromax got into the mobile-phone business in 2008, while Samsung completed development of a handset in 1991.
Indian brands accounted for two-thirds of total phone shipments in that country and more than half of smartphone shipments, according to Counterpoint Research.
Feature-filled, cheaper phones
Micromax's rise has come by selling feature-filled phones cheaper than comparable models from rivals. In April, it introduced its Canvas Doodle3 with a 6-inch screen, magnetic flip-cover, 1.3GHz dual-core MediaTek processor, Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean operating system, 5-megapixel camera, and six-month movie subscription - all for 8,500 rupees (NZ$165).
Samsung's Galaxy Mega has a 5.8-inch screen and 8-megapixel primary camera that costs 26,420 rupees (NZ$513), according to the company's website.
"It's only getting more difficult for hardware makers to make money from the market unless they bring out something very innovative to wow consumers," Daewoo's Cho said.
Samsung last week posted its smallest quarterly profit in two years as it boosted spending on marketing for cheaper devices. Its China shipments dropped 15 per cent from a year earlier, according to Canalys. Clara Lee, a Seoul-based spokeswoman for Samsung, couldn't immediately comment.
"We will more aggressively respond to the low- to mid-end smartphone market in China, which is growing rapidly now," Kim Hyun Joon, senior vice president of Samsung's mobile strategic planning team, told investors on July 31. "There is a concern that it may put further margin pressure on the profitability in the short term, but we will expand our shipment to secure profit."