Huawei bucks downward trend to unseat Apple and take the lead in China’s tablet market amid pandemic

Celia Chen

China’s tablet shipments plunged 30 per cent in the first quarter of 2020 compared to the same period last year due to the coronavirus pandemic, although the pain was not shared evenly, according to a report from research firm IDC.

Shenzhen-based Huawei saw its tablet shipments grow 4.3 per cent year on year in the quarter ended March 31 to 1.5 million units – the only major tablet maker in the market to achieve positive growth in the period, IDC said in the report on Monday.

During the quarter Huawei unseated Apple as the top tablet brand with a 40.2 per cent share of China’s market compared to 35.1 per cent for the US company, which lost its lead after a 42.5 per cent year on year drop in unit sales of iPads in the period.

IDC’s report showed that Xiaomi, Microsoft and Lenovo all saw their sales slump in the first quarter, accounting for 5.5 per cent, 3.2 per cent and 1.7 per cent of the Chinese tablet market respectively.

Hit by the coronavirus pandemic, China’s tablet shipments fell sharply in the first quarter of the year but “market opportunities arising from the pandemic were also unexpected by the industry” said Guo Tianxiang, a senior analyst at IDC.

Apple supplier Foxconn’s profit gutted by smartphone slump

The opportunities mainly came from higher demand for online education and remote working. In the first 10 days following the Lunar New Year holiday, tablet sales on JD.com, China’s second largest e-commerce platform, increased 77 per cent year on year.

“Only Huawei’s tablet business benefited from the boost in online education because other makers missed the opportunity due to the lack of plant capacity” when most factories were closed amid a nationwide lockdown, the IDC report said. “The strong demand for tablets will ease when people gradually go back to school and their offices as the spread of the virus continues to abate.”

However, IDC believes telecommuting and online education will become more accepted in the future, giving tablet makers a boost compared to their growth prospects before the pandemic.

“Online education will become the most important growth driver for the tablet market in the future,” IDC said.

Huawei’s strong performance comes amid not only tough market conditions due to the pandemic, but in the face of sanctions by the Trump Administration which this month tightened restrictions on the Chinese company’s ability to make chips using American technology, which came one year after it was first added to a US trade blacklist.

In the first quarter of the year, Huawei’s chip unit HiSilicon also surpassed US chip giant Qualcomm as the top smartphone processor supplier in China, according to a separate report by Chinese research firm CINNO.

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