Japan’s smartphone market registered a fourth straight quarter of annual declines in Q4 2018, with shipments down 3.8 per cent year-on-year to 9.9 million units, Canalys data showed.

The research company said a decline in handset subsidies slowed the replacement cycle, as did the introduction of 48-month contracts by major operators.

Despite a 10.5 per cent decline in Q4 shipments, Apple held top position with a 56 per cent market share. Its full-year market share exceeded 50 per cent for the first time, up from 48 per cent in 2017 and 48.2 per cent in 2016.

Sharp, a distant second with a 9.8 per cent share in Q4, endured a 2.3 per cent year-on-year slip in shipments, while number three Sony’s shipments fell 17.2 per cent, leaving it with an 8.6 per cent market share.

Samsung ranked in fourth place with a 6.8 per cent share and was the only top-five vendor to post positive growth in Q4, with shipments rising 10.1 per cent to nearly 680,000 units.

Fifth-ranked Kyocera’s shipments dropped 14.4 per cent year-on-year and its share was 6.2 per cent.

Continued pressure
Canalys noted domestic handset makers (the three listed above along with Fujistu) held a combined market share of 25.2 per cent in Q4 due to traditional strong ties with operators, but stated the outlook remains bleak for local vendors this year.

For the full year 2018, shipments slipped 1.9 per cent to 32.5 million units, making the country the fourth-largest smartphone market in the world, behind China, India and the US.

This year, Canalys expects the market to fall 2.7 per cent as it continues to be impacted by the lengthening refresh cycle. A pending price cut in mobile tariffs of up to 40 per cent due to pressure from regulators is expected to adversely affect premium handset and local vendors such as Sharp and Kyocera, which rely heavily on subsidies and operator promotions.

The research company added Apple’s biggest challenge in 2019 will be to retain its dominance at a time of downward pressure on operator subsidies, a rising secondhand market and increasing competition from vendors including Huawei.