According to preliminary data from the International Data Corporation, smartphone vendors shipped a total of 334.3 million units during the first quarter of 2018 (1Q18), resulting in a 2.9 percent decline when compared to the 344.4 million units shipped in the first quarter of 2017.
The China market was the biggest driver of this decline with shipment volumes dipping below 100 million in the quarter, which hasn't happened since the third quarter of 2013.
"Globally, as well as in China, a key bellwether, smartphone consumers are trading up to more premium devices, but there are no longer as many new smartphone converts, resulting in shipments dropping," said Melissa Chau, associate research director with IDC's Worldwide Mobile Device Trackers.
However, data said that South Korean tech Samsung remained the leader in the worldwide smartphone market grabbing 23.4 percent share despite experiencing a 2.4 percent decline from Q1 2017.
The new S9 and S9+ led the way as the new flagships launched a quarter early for the Korean giant compared to last year's S8/S8+, IDC said. While Apple's first quarter saw the iPhone maker move 52.2 million iPhones representing a modest 2.8 percent year-over-year increase from the 50.8 million units shipped last year. Despite rumors of an underperforming iPhone X in the quarter, Apple stated that the iPhone X was the most popular model each week in the March quarter.
Meanwhile, Chinese smartphone maker Huawei climbed to a new market share high of 11.8 percent even as it remained in third overall."Xiaomi continues its retail expansion in India and Southeast Asia; however online channels remain the key contributor in India, its second-largest market," the IDC report noted.
Oppo held the fifth position with its year-over-year decline of 7.5 percent more a result of the China slowdown than of its performance overseas.
"Despite new flagships from the likes of Samsung and Huawei, along with the first full quarter of iPhone X shipments, consumers looked unwilling to shell out big money for the latest and greatest devices on the market," said Anthony Scarsella, research manager with IDC's Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker.
Scarsella said that "The abundance of ultra-high-end flagships with big price tags released over the past 12-18 months has most likely halted the upgrade cycle in the near term. It now looks as if consumers are not willing to shell out this kind of money for a new device that brings minimal upgrades over their current device."
Looking forward, more affordable premium devices might be the solution the market needs in the second half of the year to drive shipments back in a positive direction, she added.