13 Aug 2020

IDC: “Light and Thin” Returns In the Year One of 5G

Beijing, August 13, 2020 – On June 6, 2019, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) of China officially issued 5G commercial licenses, marking the first year of China's 5G commercialization. In August of the same year, the first domestic 5G mobile phone was launched. Over the course of one-year development, domestic 5G product design has gone through a "heavy at first, then light" process. However, the design of mobile phone products should always be customer experience-driven at the core. IDC believes that in the future, thin and light mobile phones will always occupy an important position in the market.

In 2020, the development of domestic 5G infrastructure and network coverage is still in the early stage. As of the end of June, only about 410,000 5G base stations have been built in China; however, following the “Device goes first” direction, the market share of 5G smartphones in China continued to soar. According to the "IDC China Monthly Smartphone Tracker ", in the past year, the total shipments of 5G mobile phones have exceeded 67 million units. Since the beginning of May this year, the proportion in a single month has exceeded 50%.

From the perspective of 5G mobile phone design, in addition to SoC or 5G baseband chips, the corresponding antenna, radio frequency, heat dissipation, and larger-capacity batteries need to occupy more space inside the mobile phone and increase its weight. Starting from the second half of 2019, the proportion of products with a weight of more than 190g continued to increase and reached more than 60% at one time by the end of 2019.

The initial 5G mobile phones, as the main driver of the heavy products in the overall market, mostly had weight exceeding 190g, and products above 200g also accounted for a proportion greater than 30%. However, since the end of 2019, 5G smartphones, produced by leading manufacturers, which are under 190g and have a more user-friendly holding experience, have gradually entered the market and saw explosive growth in the second quarter of 2020. As of June, nearly 50% of 5G smartphones in the country are light and thin phones which weigh less than 190g.

However, because the thinner and lighter design compresses the internal space of the mobile phone, the balance and choice between product performance and weight will be an important challenge for a while for vendors when they plan, design, and position their 5G products. Throughout the first half of 2020, all the products targeting young and fashionable people and sold through offline channels were less than 190g. But high-end flagship products with more functions and stronger performance, or the value-for-money products that mainly sold in online markets were not very strict in terms of weight controls.

Before November 2019, only ZTE and China Mobile had launched thin and light 5G mobile phones lighter than 190g. Among the leading manufacturers, OPPO first launched a thin and light 5G model at the end of 2019 and continued to invest in this field. Starting in April this year, Huawei has gained more than 40% market share in the thin and light smartphone market in the second quarter with its well-accepted nova 7 series and P40 model occupying a dominant position.

With the gradual penetration of 5G, the continuous adoption of higher screen refresh rate and high sampling rate along with the improvement of other functions, the demand for higher battery capacity arises. Meanwhile, most customers rely on battery capacity as the most straightforward indicator to identify the battery life when they buy smartphones. In the one-year development of the domestic 5G market, 95% of 5G mobile phones adopt 4,000+ mAh batteries.

Since the battery is generally a single component that occupies the largest space inside a mobile phone, the provision of a large-capacity battery poses a greater challenge to the design of thin and light 5G mobile phones. Seen from the new products that were launched in the second quarter of 2020, the thin and light design with large-capacity battery is adopted by many vendors as a selling point for their uniquely positioned 5G products. Among them, OPPO gained the leading position in the thin and light design plus large-capacity battery area by launching the Reno 3 series, Reno 4 series, A92s, and other product lines in the second quarter. The nova 7 series and Honor 30 series from Huawei are the absolute main players in this market, and the vivo S6 and X50 series also achieved good market performance and reputation in the second quarter.

Looking at the one-year development of domestic 5G mobile phone products, the initial 5G mobile phone products on the market had to compromise on weight due to various technical reasons. However, with the rapid development of technology, the thickness of components such as screens and under-display fingerprint sensors has further increased. With the continuous optimization of the internal structure and stacking by mobile phone manufacturers, since 2020, the thin and light mobile phones are gradually returning to the mainstream in the rapidly developing 5G market.

Wang Xi, IDC China Research Manager believes that in recent years, with the popularity of short video applications, the length of time that users need to hold a mobile phone vertically with one hand has increased rapidly. Therefore, a thinner product with a better grip is a more obvious bonus for user experience. In the future, "lightness and thinness" will always be one of the important factors that users will consider when buying a device especially when they are buying these devices in offline counters.

Note: Huawei and Honor brands have been shown separately in some of the charts in this PR in order to better illustrate the data of different brands. This is different from the usual IDC's press releases which illustrate the data based on the "Company" that represents all the underlying brands.

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