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Apple, Samsung Phones Make Up Almost All Carrier Store Sales: Analyst

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At first glance, the US phone market looks competitive, with devices available from a wide range of vendors like Apple, Google, LG, Motorola, OnePlus, and Samsung. In practice, however, it appears to be anything but. According to a new analysis, over 90 percent of the devices sold at the four largest US carriers (AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon) were made by Apple or Samsung, with 95, 94, 91, and 94 percent of the market at each carrier (listed in the same order as above).

There are a lot of ways to read this data, which PCMag steps through in some detail. One interpretation is that it’s the same concentration-effect we’ve seen replicated across other industries over the past 20 years. There have been serious questions raised about the impact on ordinary Americans’ ability to meaningfully choose products or services as the number of providers and sales outlets has shrunk over the past few decades and repeated mergers and consolidations have reduced the number of players in most industries. I’ve also seen the issue explained with reference to the monthly plans offered by many vendors that make buying an expensive device much affordable than a lump-sum payment and encourages US citizens to buy the highest-end device they can. Either way, Apple and Samsung completely dominate the sales network in the US.

The numbers are apparently a little better if you examine prepaid markets, where there is a wider range of vendors and cheaper devices. Boost reports the LG Stylo 5 in fifth place (1-4 were Apple/Samsung), while MetroPCS claims Samsung, LG, and Motorola dominated its offerings. According to Counterpoint, the US smartphone market looked like this in Q3 2019:

US-Phone-Market

Data by Counterpoint Research, Lenovo data includes Motorola

Apple holds a 42 percent market share, compared with 25 percent for Samsung and 12 percent for LG (gained by combining prepaid and postpaid sales). Lenovo picked up 8 percent, and the remaining 13 percent was divided among “Others.” The worldwide top phone vendors are very different, with Samsung, Huawei, Apple, Oppo, and Xiaomi taking the top five spots globally. Three of those companies don’t even sell devices in the United States and have no plans to do so. The US is, as PCMag notes, considered one of the most difficult mobile environments to launch into or to succeed in, and our market doesn’t really resemble any other country. Other companies like OnePlus and Google have their own passionate fanbases, but they haven’t been able to translate those into major success stories in the United States.

What this means, however, is that the US market is more of a duopoly at the high end than in the lower-cost segments, where prepaid customers tend to buy and where companies like LG pick up much of their market share. According to a 2018 article, the Samsung/Apple duopoly concentrates at the top of the market. The market for cheap Android devices where Apple doesn’t compete shows more variation as far as customer choice.

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