updated 06:30 pm EST, Wed December 11, 2013
Massive sales surge comes ahead of deal with giant China Mobile
Even before an expected debut on the world's largest cellular provider, China Mobile, is announced, Apple's new iPhone models have led to a surprising surge in Chinese sales, vaulting the company from sixth place in marketshare to third place since it debuted its latest models. The popularity of the iPhone 5s and 5c have been such that the company tripled its marketshare in a single month, according to a report from market researchers Counterpoint.
Ironically, Apple had been seeing a steady decrease in share since the early part of 2013, falling to just two percent share in August based on the lack of new models. The announcement that China would be in the front line of nations receiving the new iPhones, which are carried on China's second- and third-largest networks, boost sales significantly and doubling the company's share from two to four percent by the end of September -- even though the new iPhones were only available for a few days at the end of that month, and the prized iPhone 5s was severely constrained.
October's result, the first full month of sales of the new iPhones in China, showed a staggering increase in sales, pushing Apple from four percent to nearly 13 percent of the market -- and if, as expected, China Mobile debuts the iPhones on its TD-LTE network after six long years of negotiations, a significant portion of its 176 million existing 3G customers may choose to upgrade. Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster believes Apple could sell an additional 17 million units through China Mobile over and above its current guidance for China in fiscal 2014, adding some $10 billion in revenue to the company -- and his estimates could be conservative.
While Apple's growth in October was by far the most dramatic of any major smartphone seller, Samsung continued to dominate and expand its marketshare, going from 15 to 18 percent. Chinese maker Lenovo also saw share increase from around 12 to 14 percent to keep its second-place standing. Other Chinese makers, including Huawei, Coolpad and ZTE saw their percentage of the market drop, with the latter experiencing nearly as dramatic a fall as Apple's rise. ZTE went from about seven percent share to about two percent in just the one month's time.
While China Mobile claims it is "still in negotiations" with Apple on a deal, the carrier -- which has a total of some 760 million subscribers, many of whom are moving to the point of entering the smartphone market for the first time -- has let slip various advertisements and pre-ordering sites that indicate it plans to include the iPhone in the unveiling of its 4G/LTE network, scheduled for December 18. China Mobile will be launching LTE service in a number of China's major cities, and the iPhone 5s and 5c are both compatible with the frequencies used for the first time -- making their rise in the market a safe bet even if China Mobile doesn't include Apple in its debut.
Furthermore, China's TD-LTE uses a different technology and set of frequencies than the rest of the world's LTE standard (called FD-LTE), and only a relative handful of devices have thus far been certified to work with it. With the launch of the TD-LTE network, buyers of premium smartphones will have a small range of options that are compatible, but the new iPhones are among those devices that are already certified for it.