The iPhone just crushed Samsung in sales — is it as bad as it seems?

iPhone January sales
(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Apple has started 2021 brilliantly, according to Counterpoint Research. The company has released its list of the ten best selling smartphones in January, and six of the slots are taken with iPhones. 

What's more, of the remaining four slots, just two are from Samsung — the Galaxy A31 and Galaxy A21S — both budget handsets, sold outside of the US for less than $200. Meanwhile, Apple’s selection includes all four high-end iPhone 12s. Should this be cause for alarm for Samsung?

Before we get on to that, here’s the list in full. Remember that these figures are based on worldwide sales for January, so it’s entirely possible that things have turned on their head in the intervening months. 

Counterpoint Research smartphone sales figures (January 2021)

(Image credit: Counterpoint Research)

While it’s pretty clear that the iPhone 12 launch has been a big success for Apple, it’s important to not get too carried away about what it says about the opposition for a couple of reasons.

Firstly, the percentages involved are individually small, with even the best selling iPhone 12 grabbing just6% of the global market. Add up all the percentages of the top ten, and it still only comes to 24%, leaving a very long and profitable tail for other manufacturers to chase. This chart favors the likes of Apple, which only makes a handful of handsets, against a brand like Samsung which has dozens across the Galaxy S, Note, Z and A series.

Secondly, the timing is good for Apple. As the chart was compiled for January, the iPhone 12 family was the most recent big selling flagship to launch, with models first going on sale in October and November. By contrast, the Samsung Galaxy S21 went on sale on January 14 — nearly halfway through the reporting period.   

At the same time, there are certainly reasons for Samsung executives to be a little worried. First, Xiaomi’s appearance above Samsung with the Redmi 9 and 9A is a concern, given the Chinese company doesn’t sell its handsets in the U.S. The sub-$150 handsets are taking on Samsung’s equivalents outside the U.S and winning, which is a trend to watch. 

Secondly, the fact that the iPhone 12 mini comes in eighth place should raise alarm bells, given the company has reportedly slashed production in the face of underwhelming sales. If it’s underperforming and is still the eighth best selling smartphone, what does that say about the opposition?

It will certainly be interesting to see if the Samsung Galaxy S21 features on February and March’s charts. If it doesn’t, then there could be a whole lot of pressure on Samsung to deliver with its next big flagship release, the Galaxy Z Fold 3

Alan Martin

Freelance contributor Alan has been writing about tech for over a decade, covering phones, drones and everything in between. Previously Deputy Editor of tech site Alphr, his words are found all over the web and in the occasional magazine too. When not weighing up the pros and cons of the latest smartwatch, you'll probably find him tackling his ever-growing games backlog. Or, more likely, playing Spelunky for the millionth time.