By Jonathan Davies

Annual smartphone sales in China have fallen for the first time, according to market research firm Gartner.

Gartner's figures show that smartphone sales were down 4% during the three months to the end of June, compared with the same period last year, leading to experts to suggest that the market has reached saturation point.

Around half of the population now owns a smartphone, which means they are not upgrading annually.

Gartner research director Anshul Gupta said: "China has reached saturation. Its market is essentially driven by smartphone replacements rather than upgrades from feature phones, so they will follow an 18-month, 24-month, or whatever, replacement cycle."

China has been viewed as a critical market for smartphone manufacturers over the past year.

Samsung, the world's largest
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manufacturer, saw sales fall 49% despite the launch of its Galaxy S6 flagship model. Lenovo reported a 42.7% fall.

Apple, on the other hand, reported a 69% rise in sales despite not launching a new model during the period.

Huawei became China's most popular smartphone manufacturer, climbing four places with 46% sales growth over the past year.

Mr Gupta said: "Samsung is down significantly, not just in China, but in other markets as well.

"And the Chinese players have taken a significant lead in their home market."