iPhone XR.
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  • Apple's iPhone XR was the best-selling smartphone in the world during the third quarter of 2019, according to Counterpoint Research.
  • The iPhone XR is the less-expensive alternative to Apple's flagship iPhones from 2018.
  • Other mid-tier smartphones from Samsung also made Counterpoint's list of the best-selling smartphones, providing further evidence that people aren't always willing to pay around R15,000 for a new smartphone.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

The best-selling smartphone in the world in the third quarter of 2019 wasn't Samsung's recently launched Galaxy S10 or Apple's flagship iPhone.

Rather, it was the iPhone XR, the least expensive smartphone from Apple's 2018 lineup,  according to Counterpoint Research. The phone was priced at R15,999 (64GB version) when it was launched in South Africa last year. It now sells for around R12,999. 

The iPhone XR captured 3% of the market during that three-month period, and it's also been the top-selling smartphone every quarter since the fourth quarter of 2018, Counterpoint Research's report says. Sales of the iPhone XR also accounted for over a quarter of Apple's smartphone sales during the fourth quarter of 2019, according to the report.

The iPhone XR's top spot on Counterpoint Research's compilation of the 10 best-selling smartphones of the quarter speaks to a broader trend that's noticeable throughout the list. Most of the phones that made the cut are mid-tier smartphones that are less expensive than their flagship counterparts. Phones from Samsung's more affordable Galaxy A series ranked among the best-selling phones of the quarter, for example, while none of the products from the Galaxy S10 family made the list. Apple's iPhone 11, which costs less than the iPhone 11 Pro, also made the ranking.

Part of the reason why these lower-end phones are selling so well is because features from more premium phones are starting to trickle down to cheaper devices, Counterpoint's report says. Take the Samsung Galaxy A50, for example. The R5,999 smartphone comes with features that have been billed as selling points for more expensive models, like a triple-lens camera and an edge-to-edge screen.

The iPhone 11 similarly has a nearly borderless screen, an ultra-wide-angle camera, and the same processor that powers its pricier Pro siblings. Other phones that made the list include devices from Oppo's A series, Xiaomi's Redmi 7a, and the Huawei P30.

The rising costs of smartphones

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The fact that so many midrange devices ranked among the best-selling smartphones in the world provides further evidence that many people aren't willing to pay nearly R15,000 for a new smartphone - even though that price range has become the norm. 

Counterpoint Research's report isn't the first indication that consumers are shying away from more expensive devices. A report from NPD Group published in early December found that less than 10% of people in the United States are spending more than $1,000 (R14,000) on a new mobile device.

Smartphones weren't always so expensive. The iPhone 7, which launched in 2016, started at $650 if you opted for the standard model and $770 if you chose the larger version with two cameras. But as smartphones gained more advanced features like edge-to-edge screens and facial recognition, prices began to increase.

A new crop of cheaper smartphone

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Over the last year, however, large tech firms like Apple, Samsung, and Google have also started to release less-expensive versions of their flagship smartphones alongside their new premium models.

Apple launched the iPhone XR last year and the iPhone 11 in 2019, which it positioned as being its flagship offering for this year. Google released the cheaper Pixel 3a in May, which inherited several features from the pricier Pixel 3, and Samsung debuted the cheaper Galaxy S10e alongside the Galaxy S10 in February.

Such launches have likely been an effort to motivate consumers to upgrade as global smartphone shipments have dropped while customers hang onto their devices for longer periods of time. The popularity of devices like the iPhone XR is yet another sign that not everyone is willing to shell out upwards of R15,000 for top-of-the-line smartphones.

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