As Huawei roars in Q4, Samsung preps folding displays, two Galaxy S7s and new mobile software

Samsung reported a relatively sluggish fourth quarter, as was expected, and analysts said the company's troubles helped pave the way for Huawei to score the biggest gains in the world's smartphone market during the final three months of 2015.

"Huawei was the biggest winner in the quarter, with the strongest year-over-year growth among the top five vendors at 37 percent," research firm IDC said in a report that found the world's smartphone makers collectively shipped a total of 399.5 million units during the fourth quarter, up 5.7 percent from the year-ago period.

"Usually the conversation in the smartphone market revolves around Samsung and Apple, but Huawei's strong showing for both the quarter and the year speak to how much it has grown as an international brand," said IDC analyst Melissa Chau in a release. "While there is a lot of uncertainty around the economic slowdown in China, Huawei is one of the few brands from China that has successfully diversified worldwide, with almost half of its shipments going outside of China. Huawei is poised to be in a good position to hold onto a strong number 3 over the next year."

IDC said Samsung led the world's global smartphone market with a 21.4 percent share in the fourth quarter, while Apple came in second with 18.7 percent share and Huawei clocked in third with 8.1 percent share -- up from a global market share of 6.3 percent in the fourth quarter of 2014.

But Huawei still faces its share of troubles, according to the analysts at Strategy Analytics. "There are signs that Huawei's growth is now starting to slow," the firm's Neil Mawston said in a release. "Its annual growth rate of 50 percent declined sequentially from 73 percent in the prior quarter, as several major rivals like Apple and Xiaomi are fighting back."

For its part, Samsung reported that its net income (excluding minority interests) fell 39 percent to roughly $2.7 billion during the fourth quarter, which Bloomberg noted was lower than what most analysts expected. Moreover, Samsung executives echoed those from Apple by warning 2016 will likely stand as a difficult year for the world's consumer electronics companies.

In order to boost its position, Samsung said it is working on foldable displays for smartphones, but the company declined to say when it would release such gadgets. And as the WSJ reported, the company also said it hired an R&D executive to focus specifically on mobile software -- previously the company had an R&D executive focusing on both hardware and software. Samsung's Lee Kyeong-tae said the move to split hardware and software R&D is designed to "accelerate innovation on software and services, while developing and identifying new business opportunities, like 'smart health' and the cloud," according to the WSJ.

Finally, Bloomberg reported that Samsung will introduce two new versions of its flagship Galaxy smartphone during next month's Mobile World Congress trade show in Barcelona, Spain. Citing unnamed sources, the publication said the S7 will sport a 5.1-inch front screen and the S7 Edge offer a 5.5-inch screen "stretching down the sides."

"With continuously increasing pressure in the high end from Apple, and at the low end to midrange from Chinese manufacturers Xiaomi, Huawei, ZTE, and others, Samsung faces a multi-front battle." IDC summarized.

For more:
- see this IDC release
- see this Strategy Analytics release
- see this WSJ article
- see this Cnet article
- see this Bloomberg article

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