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Smartphone sales slump 22 million – a golden chance for the camera market?

Smartphone sales slump 22 million – a golden chance for the camera market?

The bubble has officially burst on the seemingly unstoppable smartphone boom, as sales have slumped by 6.6% in the first quarter of 2019 compared to the same period in 2018. 

That amounts to a huge decline of 22 million units year on year – which, given that the period has seen some of the best camera phones we've ever seen hit shelves, comes as a huge blow to the smartphone sector. 

The question is, with camera phones having threatened to erode the camera market by up to 50%, could this be a golden opportunity for the traditional camera industry to claw back some much needed sales? 

Smartphone sales slump

According to the International Data Corporation, by way of a CNBC report, smartphone volumes for the first quarter of 2019 fell by 6.6% year-on-year – which came following a 4.9% decline in the fourth quarter of 2018.

According to information in the Daily Mail, Samsung's numbers dipped by around 5 million units while Apple's fell by some 13 million. Huawei, on the other hand, saw dramatic growth of almost 20 million units – which only seemed set to increase with the release of the impressive Honor Pro 20.  

It's not without a sense of irony, then, that this period came before the recent Huawei blacklisting incident, which will no doubt have an enormous negative impact on Huawei's performance – the only bright spot in an otherwise bleak report. 

Indeed, according to the Bangkok Post, "One week after Huawei's struggle with the US and losing its Android OS licence, sales are down by double-digit rates, say retailers and mobile operators."

Smartphone manufacturers have tried to reinvigorate the market with foldable phones and the promise of the 5G revolution, but ultimately consumers are burned out on increasingly expensive tech and the near-annual cycle of replacement phones. Change is definitely in the air.

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A golden opportunity?

The long and painful demise of the camera industry, which has shrunk 84% since 2010, has been exacerbated by the rise in both prominence and capability of the new generation of camera phones.  

Canon's recent financial report noted a 23% drop in camera sales in Q1 2019 compared to the same period in 2018, equating to an 81.6% collapse in operating profit – figures that make the smartphone industry's crisis seem almost optimistic by comparison. 

“… we expect the market contraction to continue for another two to three years, due to the rise of the smartphones," notes the report. "That said, there is a portion of the market that will certainly remain, in particular segments serving the needs of professionals and advanced amateurs."

While pro and advanced photographers aren't likely to forgo traditional cameras in favor of camera phones – even though they're just as afflicted by the replacement cycle of camera bodies – it's the casual and hobbyist segment that might now come back into play, with the decline of phone sales. 

Accordingly, Canon's strategy of releasing more affordable models aimed at entry level users – the Canon EOS RP and the Canon EOS 250D / Rebel SL3 – may yet be among the greatest weapons in the battle to regain camera supremacy from smartphones. 

Read more: 

Smartphones could halve camera market in two years, Canon warns
Google’s Huawei blacklisting: How will this affect Honor smartphones?
The best camera phone in 2019: ultimate smartphone cameras on test

James Artaius

The editor of Digital Camera World, James started working in the photographic industry in 2014 as an assistant to Damian McGillicuddy – successor to David Bailey as Principal Photographer for Olympus. In this time he shot for clients as diverse as Aston Martin Racing, Elinchrom and L'Oréal, in addition to shooting campaigns and product testing for Olympus. An Olympus and Canon user, James was previously technique editor on PhotoPlus: The Canon Magazine.