For a long time, we’ve been able to say unequivocally that Qualcomm chips power most phones in the US. Now, that’s not so certain. New numbers from sales tracker IDC claim that Taiwan-based MediaTek has surpassed its US rival, accounting for 48.1 percent of Android phones sold in the US last year, while Qualcomm is just a little behind at 43.9 percent. However, Qualcomm isn’t giving up the crown so easily. It points to Counterpoint’s research, which still shows it with a substantial lead.
Device makers don’t release precise sales numbers, so we have to rely on the roundabout analysis from firms like IDC and Counterpoint. The way they track sales can differ, which is why we have this standoff. IDC shows MediaTek more than four points ahead, but Counterpoint flips the script with MediaTek down at 37 percent and Qualcomm out in front with 55 percent.
Qualcomm and MediaTek have traditionally gone after different markets in the US, which might have something to do with the wide range of estimates. MediaTek has long focused on budget phones, but Qualcomm owns the high-end with chips like the new Snapdragon 8 Gen 1. MediaTek has been slower to adopt 5G, and it has scarcely acknowledged the existence of millimeter wave 5G, which Qualcomm and US carriers have put at the forefront from the start.
MediaTek says its growth in the US is down to more chip competition in the mid-range. The MediaTek-powered Samsung Galaxy A12, Galaxy A32, and Moto G Pure all sold very well, and devices in this same product families relied on Qualcomm chips in 2020. For example, the Galaxy A11 had a Snapdragon 450, but the A12 switched to the MediaTek Helio P35. I have been told (but cannot confirm) a driving force behind this change at the OEM level is the increasing cost of smartphone components — MediaTek has traditionally offered lower prices than Qualcomm, which narrowly avoided being labeled an abusive monopoly in 2020.
Naturally, Qualcomm says the IDC numbers are inaccurate, and it is still the biggest chipset supplier in the US. Maybe that’s true, but MediaTek is on an upward trend. It will probably begin to see more pickup at the high end with its Dimensity chipsets, some of which could go toe-to-toe with Qualcomm. The new Dimensity 9000 is sporting the latest Cortex-X2, A710, and A510 cores. It still only supports lower frequency 5G, but MediaTek says it will release mmWave-enabled chipsets in the US later in 2022.