Samsung reclaims top spot, overtakes OnePlus in premium smartphone market

Samsung S10 devices were a hit as soon as they were announced, with consumer tech enthusiasts cheering its latest innovations
Nearly a year after Samsung lost out to its Chinese rival OnePlus, the country’s largest consumer electronics player has reclaimed the top spot in India’s premium smartphone market. According to analyst firm Counterpoint Research, Samsung, which markets handsets in all price bands, has once again become No. 1 in the most expensive price category (above Rs 30,000) in the January-March 2019 quarter.

It’s a sweet moment for D J Koh, the global president of Samsung’s multi-billion dollar-information technology and mobile communications division. Koh has been working hard to come up with a new India strategy for the brand, so that it would regain its numero uno position in the country. In his own words, taking a nap at a time when it was lagging behind OnePlus would have sent the brand into a tailspin in India. Koh was determined to claw his way back into the reckoning. And his efforts have finally paid off.

Once the clear leader in the premium handset market, Samsung had slipped behind OnePlus in June 2018, when the Chinese firm cornered over 40 per cent of the market share. Since then, Samsung trailed its Chinese counterpart, with quarterly market shares ranging between 20 per cent and 35 per cent. In fact, as new iPhones hit the market in December 2018, it tumbled to the third spot, behind OnePlus and Apple, with only 26 per cent of the market share.

While Counterpoint Research is yet to reveal the premium market share numbers for the last quarter, it is estimated that Samsung’s share in the Rs 30,000-price segment was close to 40 per cent in the January-March 2019 period.

Analysts at Counterpoint Research suggest that Samsung’s luck turned after its new flagship series, Galaxy S10, was launched in the India market in early-March. This time the firm introduced three premium smartphones — unlike previous years when only two Galaxy S series phones were launched. While Galaxy S10 and S10 Plus were natural upgradations of the decade-old series, Samsung also introduced Galaxy S10e — a cheaper and smaller device, to lure consumers at the lower strata of the premium market.

Fortunately for Samsung, the S10 devices were a hit as soon as they were announced, with consumer tech enthusiasts cheering its latest innovations.

According to Ranjivjit Singh, chief marketing officer, Samsung India, the local team played a significant role in developing the devices that are now earning rich dividends for Samsung globally. “Over 500 engineers from India worked hard to design a superlative camera experience on the Galaxy S10 and S10 Plus,” Singh said proudly. Features such as the ‘Scene Optimiser’, ‘Live Focus’, and ‘AR Emoji’ were developed right here in India, Singh added. 

Above the mark performance of the S10 series devices has also lifted the overall average selling price for Samsung’s vast handset portfolio, said Counterpoint Research.

Samsung’s renewed focus on e-commerce channels that generate over a third of the total smartphone market sales in India has further boosted its prospects. The firm has been trailing Xiaomi — the market leader in the overall smartphone market — since 2015. However, the strategy for its new devices clearly involves a more aggressive use of the online space, and since late-2018, it has been much more focused in this area. From special cashback offers to giving eye-popping discounts, Samsung has kept competitors on their toes during the first quarter of 2019.

Samsung also benefited from the fact that neither Apple nor OnePlus came out with any new flagship device in the January-March 2019 quarter to counter its offensive.

That said, Koh can hardly afford to relax. OnePlus is readying to launch its latest offering, OnePlus 7, in the June quarter and Apple’s new range of iPhones is also set to hit the market in October. Clearly, Samsung will have to fight hard to continue to retain that coveted top spot in India’s premium smartphone market.

UP, DOWN, UP

| Samsung dislodges OnePlus and 
regains top spot in the premium smartphone (above Rs 30,000) market in 
the March 2019 quarter
| Latest flagships Galaxy S10e, S10, and S10 Plus send Samsung back to No. 1 position 
| Current estimated market share: 40% 
| New India strategy turns the tide 
for Samsung
| OnePlus overtook Samsung in April-June 2018, claiming close to 40% market share