Chinese firm Huawei has become the world's second-largest smartphone maker as Apple fell back to third place in the first quarter of 2019, new figures show.

The latest data from International Data Corporation's (IDC's) Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker showed that, overall, shipments of smartphones continued to fall, dropping by 6.6 per cent year-on-year, marking the sixth consecutive quarter of declines.

Despite this challenging environment, Huawei continued to buck the trend, with the research showing it increased the number of devices shipped by more than 50 per cent year-on-year, rising from 39.3 million in the first quarter of 2018 to 59.1 million for the same period this year.

This was enough for it to leapfrog Apple, which saw shipments drop by 30.2 per cent year-on-year, falling from 52.2 million in Q1 2018 to 36.4 million in the latest update. Samsung maintained its position as the world's largest supplier of smartphones, although it also saw shipments slip by 8.1 per cent, to 71.9 million.

Commenting on the figures, Ryan Reith, program vice-president with IDC's Worldwide Mobile Device Trackers division, said: "It is becoming increasingly clear that Huawei is laser focused on growing its stature in the world of mobile devices, with smartphones being its lead horse."

He added that, with the firm overtaking Apple and closing the gap to Samsung, "this new ranking of Samsung, Huawei and Apple is very likely what we'll see when 2019 is all said and done."

Apple may have been particularly affected by weakness in its home market, with IDC noting the US felt the worst of the global downtime at the start of 2019. 

Anthony Scarsella, research manager with IDC's Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker, explained one of the key contributors to this is weakness at the high-end of the market, as buyers become more sceptical of the latest premium flagships.

"Consumers continue to hold on to their phones longer than before as newer higher-priced models offer little incentive to shell out top dollar to upgrade," he said. "Moreover, the pending arrival of 5G handsets could have consumers waiting until both the networks and devices are ready for prime time in 2020."

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