Despite the slow-season performance of China's smartphone market, chipmaker MediaTek's smartphone application processor (AP) shipments in the first quarter continue to see strong growth like it did during the previous quarter. The good price/performance ratios of MediaTek's entry-level and mid-range WCDMA smartphone APs have boosted their popularity among emerging markets.
Seeing MediaTek's rapid penetration into emerging markets, its competitors, particularly Spreadtrum, face great challenges defending their market shares. Spreadtrum used to focus on supplying EDGE and WCDMA smartphone AP products to emerging markets, but its shipments have begun to drop sharply since early 2014 with a pace even faster than the decline its single-core TD-SCDMA products saw during the second half of 2013.
According to Digitimes Research's figures, Spreadtrum's smartphone AP shipments in January and February 2014 were only half of those of the same months in 2013 and were even lower than its monthly average of the second half of 2013. Although market watchers expect the China chipmaker's shipments to improve in March, it is unlikely to help it fully regain the market share it has lost to MediaTek.
Spreadtrum was originally set to release its 3-mode LTE smartphone AP products in April, but the China government's policy change requiring five-mode support is expected to dampen Spreadtrum's shipments in the second half of the year.
In the second half, Spreadtrum will release its baseband-integrated tablet APs to increase its presence in the market, but with MediaTek already dominating the market and Qualcomm aggressively trying to make forays into the segment, the China-based maker will be unlikely to have any advantage in terms of product specifications or prices.
Enty-level smartphones and tablets are starting to adopt quad-core APs, but Spreadtrum's quad-core APs and solutions are immature. Its clients have started turning to MediaTek's solutions for their devices, which means Spreatrum will have a difficult year.