December Holiday Smartphone Activations Down 20% Year-over-Year

By Lisa Moshfegh, Product Marketing

December is by far the highest month for new device activations in the United States. Elevated device activations begin around Black Friday, peak on Christmas Day and remain elevated through New Year’s Day. Combined, this forms an extended, appreciable wave of new smartphone activations across the month. In this report, we share how December 2020 smartphone activations fared against the backdrop of slumping retail sales during the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic.

Flurry Analytics is used in over 1 million mobile applications, providing insights from 2 billion mobile devices per month. Let’s see what happened.

Decreased Demand Continues in December

This holiday season was like no other. A combination of growing unemployment rates, stay-at-home orders and business closures, many people reduced holiday spending and most shifted buying online. On Christmas day, smartphone activations were down 23% year-over-year. Let’s now compare the entire month of December 2020 to that of 2019.

Smartphone Activations December 2019 vs. December 2020

In the chart above, we plot daily smartphone activations across December 2020 in dark blue and December 2019 in light blue. The 2020 curve shows an even, decreased amplitude but follows the general shape of 2019’s curve. This indicates that total demand was down but that consumer purchasing behavior still follows a similar pattern. In both cases, December is elevated, there is a spike on Christmas Day, and stepped-up tail between Christmas and New Year’s Day. Overall, December 2020 smartphone activations are down 20% compared to December 2019. We believe the underlying driver is COVID-19 which has increased unemployment, decreased consumer spending, and pushed the bulk of sales transactions online. Limitations on family gatherings may have also dampened gift giving. While overall smartphone adoption was down, a significant volume of devices were still adopted. Let’s see which device models rose to the top this holiday season.

Top 10 Smartphones Activated December 2020

In the chart above, we list the top 10 most activated smartphones in December 2020 along with the market share captured for each device. Similar to Christmas day, last year’s iPhone 11 took the number one spot with 5.7% of total smartphone activations in December. This year’s most premium device, the iPhone 12 Pro Max was number two and the iPhone 12 was number three. In total, across all of December, Apple iPhone devices took eight of the top ten spots, with LG’s Stylo 6 and Samsung’s Galaxy A11 taking the eighth and tenth spots respectively.

The success of several discounted devices this year is noteworthy, indicating that consumers were notably more price sensitive this holiday season. However, the second place finish by the iPhone 12 Pro Max, which starts at $1,099, is remarkable and proves that Apple loyalists want the most advanced smartphone Apple has to offer.

The Case of the Missing Mini

While three devices from Apple’s 2020 iPhone 12 line ranked among the Top 5 most popular devices, the iPhone 12 mini failed to even crack the Top 10. In fact, we have to go all the way to the 25th spot to find the flagship mini device, despite consumer interest for Apple to make a smaller, pocket-friendly device. We believe that the value and size of the iPhone SE cannibalized interest in the iPhone 12 mini. The iPhone 12 mini starts at $699—just $100 less than the iPhone 12—with a 5.4” screen, while the iPhone SE, which ranked 6th overall, starts at $399 with an even smaller screen.

Let’s next review the share of new devices captured by manufacturer.

Market Share by OEM December 2020

In the pie chart above, you’ll see that Apple captured 46% of all smartphones activated in December in the United States, compared to Samsung’s 27% and LG’s 9%. It’s worth noting that Apple’s annual Fall release schedule is optimized to capture interest leading into the holiday season in the United States, arguably Apple’s most important market. While Samsung ranked 2nd in the United States, it remains the world’s largest smartphone manufacturer. And while only one Samsung device cracked this year’s Top 10 list for December, the South Korean OEM has roughly 6X the number of models in the market compared to Apple. In other words, Samsung’s sales volume is spread out across many more models.

As we predicted shortly after Thanksgiving, this year’s holiday smartphone activations are down year-over-year likely due to the pandemic. The holiday season in the U.S. continues to be the highest volume period for new device adoption, and this year was marked by split interest between high end and much more budget-friendly models. Apple continued to dominate the Holiday Season in the U.S., which maps to its device release and promotion schedule. Make sure you follow us on the Flurry Blog, Twitter and LinkedIn for the latest analyses on smartphone adoption and user behavior.  

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