Smartphones have become such an integral part of our daily lives. From the time we wake up to the time we go to sleep, we depend on these pocket-sized devices to stay connected, informed, productive and entertained. The global smartphone industry has exploded over the past decade, with companies competing fiercely to meet the needs of billions of consumers.
In this article, we‘ll survey the 10 largest smartphone companies in the world and get to know what makes them tick. Understanding their history, strengths, strategies and offerings will provide great insight into the state of this massive and dynamic industry. So whether you‘re a techie interested in specs and capabilities or just curious about the companies that make the phone in your pocket, read on for an in-depth look!
#10 – Alcatel-Lucent: A Major Player in Emerging Markets
While not a household name in the US, French telecom gear maker Alcatel-Lucent has quietly become a top 10 smartphone vendor on the strength of its budget Android phones. The company‘s OneTouch lineup, focused on customization for local markets, has found particular success in Latin America, Africa and Asia. After Alcatel-Lucent was acquired by Nokia in 2016, its phones continued to be sold under the existing brand. Recent models like the A30 Plus and Pop 4 Plus illustrate the company‘s commitment to bringing smartphone essentials to cost-conscious consumers in developing regions.
- Founded in 2006 from merger of Alcatel and Lucent
- Over 8,000 patents related to mobile comms
- Shipped 15.7 million smartphones globally in 2020
- Strong presence in Africa, Latin America and Asia
#9 – LG: Exiting Smartphones But Leaving a Mark
LG was once considered a rising challenger to Samsung‘s dominance in the Android space. The South Korean conglomerate leveraged its expertise in displays to create phones like the LG G series that combined robust hardware, fast cameras and useful software enhancements. However, LG could not keep pace and formally withdrew from the smartphone business in 2021 after years of losses. Still, 50+ million LG phone users globally attest to the company‘s impact. Its pioneering ultra-wide angle phone cameras and focus on audio quality have influenced the industry at large.
- Mobile communications division established in 2010
- Peak smartphone sales of 75 million units in 2013
- Innovations like ultra-wide cameras and Quad DAC audio
- Manufacturing facilities in South Korea, Vietnam and Brazil
#8 – Vivo: Winning Over Asian Customers with Light and Stylish Designs
Among the biggest surprises in recent years has been the rise of Vivo to become a top 5 smartphone vendor globally. The Chinese tech firm has built a reputation for powerful devices that are both slim and lightweight, targeted at fashion-focused young consumers. Vivo invests heavily in retail distribution and marketing to build brand awareness across Asia, Russia and the Middle East. The company manufactures most models sold under its name, demonstrating its end-to-end capabilities. With over 10,000 employees and 7 R&D hubs worldwide, expect Vivo‘s growth momentum to continue.
- Founded in 2009, headquartered in Dongguan, China
- Among the first companies to launch under-display fingerprint scanning
- Flagships like the X60 Pro tailored for discerning Asian markets
- Global shipments exceeded 40 million units in 2021
- Strong foothold in India with budget Y-series smartphones
#7 – ZTE: Bringing 5G to the Masses
China‘s ZTE is relatively unknown in the US but stands alongside Huawei as one of only two Chinese companies in the top 10 smartphone rankings. From its beginnings in telecom gear, ZTE has grown its mobile devices segment aggressively over the past decade. The company spans the range from ultra affordable options to premium flagships like the Axon 30. A key focus area for ZTE has been making 5G connectivity accessible to mass market consumers. With expertise across chips, infrastructure and devices, it aims to be a facilitator of the 5G revolution worldwide.
- One of China‘s oldest technology companies, founded in 1985
- Majority of revenues today come from telecom networks
- Ambitious plans to capture 20% of 5G smartphone market by 2025
- Expanding overseas presence including Europe and Latin America
- Budget Blade series drives volumes in emerging markets
#6 – OPPO: Selfie Expert Goes Premium with Find X Series
OPPO‘s ‘Camera Phone‘ slogan in the early 2010s underscored its focus on selfie image quality at a time when phones had mediocre front cameras. But there was more to OPPO than just selfies. The Chinese company offered competitively-priced phones with great designs and battery life. This core formula has now seen OPPO expand well beyond its budget brand image to the premium space with Find and Reno series phones. The Find X3 Pro can compete head-to-head with flagship phones from Apple and Samsung. OPPO‘s rise has made it a dominant player in China and key overseas markets like the Middle East and Africa.
- Originally founded in 2004 as an electronics manufacturer
- Strong offline retail presence with over 400,000 sales outlets globally
- Find X2 Pro named device of the year at European Imaging and Sound Association (EISA) 2020-2021 awards
- Over 40,000 employees focused on R&D and manufacturing
- Key research areas include 5G, AI, flash charging and IoT interconnectivity
#5 – Xiaomi: The Apple of Android Smartphones
When Xiaomi sold its first smartphone in 2011, the Chinese company set out to make quality mobile technology accessible to everyone. Founder Lei Jun drew inspiration from Steve Jobs and modeled Xiaomi as a mobile lifestyle brand. This strategy has paid rich dividends over the past decade with Xiaomi shipping 190 million phones in 2021 alone. Flagship killers like the Poco F3 and feature-packed budget Redmi Notes have won over consumers wary of expensive devices from Apple and Samsung. Backed by a large ecosystem of smart home products, Xiaomi is leveraging its hardware to drive services and ads revenue.
- Youngest company on this list, founded in 2010
- Pioneered flash sales and leveraged social media for cost-effective marketing
- Ranked #2 smartphone vendor in India and #1 in Latin America in Q1 2022
- VALUE acronym stands for Value, Innovation, Love, Energy, Attitude
- Global user base of over 500 million across 120 countries
#4 – Lenovo: Acquisitions Drive Expansion Beyond PCs
Lenovo has traversed an impressive journey from being known primarily for laptops to now ranking among the Top 5 in smartphones. The Chinese tech giant has diversified through acquisitions like that of IBM‘s PC business in 2005 and more recently Motorola in 2014. The latter instantly gave Lenovo mastery over the complete value chain spanning design, engineering and marketing. Motorola‘s iconic brand has helped Lenovo gain traction in North America. Meanwhile Lenovo-branded phones cater to young, value-conscious buyers in Asia, Russia and Latin America.
- World‘s #1 personal computer company with 25% market share
- First foray into smartphones in 2012
- Acquired over 3,800 patents from Motorola Mobility in 2014
- Strong focus on innovation including foldable displays and AR/VR
- Global network of 63,000 employees across 180 markets
#3 – Huawei: Politics Block Growth Despite Cutting-Edge Phones
Few companies have been impacted by politics as much as Huawei in recent years. The Chinese tech giant was on a blistering growth path until 2018-19 when geopolitics intervened. Accused of enabling Chinese state surveillance, Huawei was banned from buying components like chipsets from US suppliers and blocked from using Google‘s Android ecosystem. Despite these crippling challenges, Huawei managed to ship over 190 million phones in 2021. It owes this resilience to a loyal customer base, cutting-edge innovation and strategic foresight to develop its own Harmony OS. Huawei continues to produce photography flagships like the P50 Pro that set benchmarks for the industry.
- Founded in 1987 by Ren Zhengfei, initially focused on manufacturing phone switches
- World‘s largest telecom equipment vendor with 28% global market share
- First international smartphone brand to enter the hyper-competitive Indian market
- Filed for over 11% of all 5G essential patents worldwide as of Dec 2021
- Consumer Business Group‘s IoT ecosystem includes laptops, tablets, wearables and smart home devices
#2 – Samsung: Dominating Android with Galaxy S Series
Samsung has proved masterful at almost every aspect of the smartphone game, from components to design, manufacturing and marketing. The Galaxy series phones have dominated the premium Android segment, compelling Apple to up its game every year. Samsung‘s integrated value chain allows optimizations like tailoring the latest AMOLED displays and camera sensors for its flagship devices. The company drives scale through a vast lineup spanning ultra budget to premium foldable phones. Now Samsung aims to extend its smartphone leadership into adjacent ecosystems including tablets, laptops, wearables, hearables and smart homes.
- Founded in 1938 as a grocery trading company, entered electronics in 1960s
- Committed $150 billion over next 10 years towards leadership in semiconductors and bio technology
- Accounts for one fifth of South Korea‘s total exports
- First to incorporate an OLED display in Galaxy Round smartphone in 2013
- Market leader in 5G smartphones with 40% global share in H1 2022
#1 – Apple: One Ecosystem to Rule Them All
Apple‘s cutting-edge hardware may draw the limelight but its real moat lies in the tightly integrated iOS ecosystem. The intuitive user interface, multi-device syncing and strength of services like iMessage have made iOS customers the most loyal fanbase and highest spenders. The iPhone drives an outsized share of global smartphone profits despite accounting for only 17% of shipments. Apple has maintained its premium positioning even as the average smartphone price declines. The iPhone 14 series indicates the company still innovates relentlessly whether it‘s the Emergency SOS via satellite feature or the new 48MP mobile camera sensor. CEO Tim Cook has already hinted the next big frontier Apple plans to conquer is augmented reality and virtual reality.
- Co-founded by Steve Jobs in 1976 who revolutionized personal computing with Macintosh
- Became public company in 1980, made computer company history with revolutionary ‘1984‘ Super Bowl ad
- Entered smartphone market in 2007 with touchscreen all-internet iPhone that redefined the category
- Revenue from iPhone sales hit all-time high of $192 billion in 2021
- Over 1.8 billion Apple devices actively used worldwide as of March 2022
Now you should have a deeper understanding of the 10 companies that have left their mark on the smartphone landscape over the past decade plus. A few key themes are clear. Firstly, scale and volumes still matter which is why Samsung and Apple continue to lead. Secondly, the rise of competitive Chinese brands like Xiaomi illustrates how startup innovation can disrupt established players. Lastly, controlling key technologies and having a cohesive ecosystem provide durable competitive advantages, as evident from Apple‘s unassailable position built around services and iOS.
I hope you enjoyed this tour of the companies that design and manufacture the ubiquitous device in all our lives – the smartphone! Do let me know if you have any other insights into the smartphone wars.