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Research roundup: smartphones slump, smart speakers rise, robots SLAM

Peter Krass's picture

by Peter Krass on 08/27/2019
Blog Category: Devices

Smartphone shipments are slumping. Smart-speaker shipments are rumbling. And industrial robots are about to get SLAMed.

That’s the latest in IT market forecasts. Here’s your tech provider’s roundup.

Smartphone shipments slump

Smartphone shipments to end users fell by nearly 2% in the second quarter of this year, and will likely remain weak for the rest of the year, says Gartner.

The research firm estimates that worldwide smartphone shipments in Q2 totaled 368 million units. That was down from the year-earlier quarter, when worldwide smartphone shipments totaled 374 million units.

Demand is weakest at the high end, Gartner says. In the last year or so, leading suppliers including Apple and Samsung have pushed retail prices for their top phones beyond the $1K mark. Apparently, for many consumers, that’s too high.

The ranking of the top 5 vendors demonstrates just how global the phone business has become. Only one of the 5, Apple, is based in the U.S. The other 4, in order of Q2 shipments, are Samsung, Huawei, Xiaomi and Oppo.

Two countries bucked the trend and saw smartphone shipments rise in Q2. China saw smartphone unit shipments rise in Q2 by a half a percent, due mainly to vendors clearing out inventory of older 4G phones. Brazil saw shipments rise in the quarter by 1.3%.

To turn things around, phone makers will need a new approach. For now, consumers have put phone purchases on hold.

Smart-speaker switcheroo

The global market for smart speakers is big and growing quickly. No wonder vendors are jockeying for leadership positions.

Worldwide shipments of smart speakers grew in this year’s second quarter by an impressive 55% year-over-year, for a total of 26.1 million units, according to Canalys.

Baidu, a vendor that serves only China, leapfrogged Google to become the world’s No. 2 smart-speaker supplier. Baidu shipped 4.5 million units in Q2, second only to Amazon, which shipped 6.6 million units in the quarter.

That left Google in third place with Q2 global shipments of 4.3 million units. Next up was Alibaba (4.1 million units), Xiamoi (2.8 million units) and everyone else (collectively, 3.7 million units), Canalys says.

Despite the smart-speaker market’s fast growth, Q2 shipments in the U.S. actually declined by about 2%. Canalys analyst Jason Low says that’s because Amazon and Google have both recently focused on growing their smart-speaker businesses outside the U.S.

The strategy appears to be working. Amazon increased its non-U.S. sales of smart speakers from 32% of the business a year ago to 50% now, according to Canalys figures. Similarly, Google’s non-U.S. shipments of smart speakers have risen from 42% of the business a year ago to 55% now.

Hear that rumble? It’s the sound of the smart-speaker market taking off.

SLAM! go the robots

That’s SLAM as in Simultaneous Localization and Mapping. That’s not only a mouthful, but also a technology that lets robotic devices map their environment while positioning themselves in it.

Market watcher ABI Research believes SLAM technology could power a robot transition. In this scenario, today’s autonomous guided vehicles will be replaced in factories and other industrial spaces by newly autonomous mobile robots.

Unlike current industrial robots, the new autonomous robots will be able to navigate their way around busy factory floors, ABI says. Using SLAM technology, these robots will pick paths around machines, react quickly to unexpected events, and avoid collisions with other robots.

ABI is bullish on the technology. It expects global shipments of SLAM-enabled commercial and industrial robots to top 15 million units by 2030.

Further, ABI also expects these autonomous robots to account for 80% of all commercial robot shipments by 2027. “The 2020s are going to kick off with drastic changes in industrial environments,” says company analyst Andrew Zignani.

For tech providers offering robot solutions, this new technology could be a slam dunk.


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