PALO ALTO, USA – The recently released iPhone 11 came with a surprise feature: a cheaper price tag than its predecessor. It is the first time Apple has cut the launch price for the latest generation of the iconic handset, a sign that the company is "laser-focused" on regaining lost ground in China, the world's largest smartphone market.
But industry experts say Apple still has some key questions to answer – especially regarding 5G – before it can hope to reverse its shrinking market share in China.
The American tech giant unveiled the iPhone 1
Apple once dominated China's premium smartphone market, with iPhones accounting for over 80% of handsets sold for $ 600- $ 800 price bracket in the first quarter of 2018. A year later, that dominance had disappeared, with market share plummeting to 37% as local rivals overshadowed the iPhone.
In the same period, Chinese phone manufacturer Huawei Technologies saw its share of the premium smartphone market grow almost fivefold to 48%, according to Counterpoint, an Asia-based technology analysis company.
China is still a key market for Apple, accounting for more than 17% of total sales.
To regain the smartphone market shares, but the company must seize the "window for an upgrade opportunity," according to Daniel Ives, CEO of Wedbush Securities, which estimates that between 60 million and 70 million smartphone users in China will replace
" The base iPhone costs $ 699, which is $ 50 cheaper than we expected, and a clear indicator Apple is laser-focused on fueling further demand in the key China area, "Ives said. 19659002] Apple is also planning to launch a cheaper iPhone next spring to win customers in emerging markets, the Nikkei Asian Review recently stated, a sign that it is focusing more on competitive prices.
"Apple needs to keep the premium prices to be a premium brand, but they also have to recognize how the market is performing," said Tuong Nguyen, senior analyst at US technology consulting firm Gartner.
Perhaps a more critical question for Apple in China is when it will release a 5G-compatible iPhone.
China Mobile and the other two Chinese telecom operators are expected to launch 5G communications in most major cities in China by the end of the year. Chinese customers are eager to experience 5G as soon as the infrastructure is in place, and Asian phone manufacturers have been competing to compete for the upcoming market by unveiling 5G-capable smartphones.
Huawei's 5G smartphone went on sale in August, with more than 1 million customers placing pre-orders. Second Chinese manufacturer Xiaomi is expected to unveil its new 5G phone soon, while Samsung Electronics of South Korea launched its first 5G smartphone earlier this year.
At Tuesday's event, Apple executives gave no clues about the 5G iPhone.
19659002] "The lack of 5G is little surprise. Although it seems to affect Apple in key markets like China, Apple has chosen to recreate its approach with 3G and 4G by waiting for networks to be established so that they can deliver 5G at scale with maximum impact, "said Geoff Blaber, vice president of research at technology consulting firm CCS Insight.
"When I think of Apple, it's not always the first or best in hardware or new technology. Apple usually takes time to try technology and then launch when they can provide the best experience," said Gartners Nguyen. "But it is certainly possible that Chinese customers will continue to buy an iPhone 11 until the 5G-compatible iPhone comes out," he added.
The ongoing US-China trade war is also about Apple in China.
Neil Shah, Director of Research at Counterpoint, said that two trade war-related factors could hamper iPhone demand: the economic uncertainty it causes, and an increase in nationalism that causes consumers to turn to local brands, especially Huawei.
"In this context, the reception in China for the new iPhones is estimated to be underway," Shah said.
Counterpoint forecasts Apple could sell roughly 30 million to 35 million iPhones this year in China, down from the 63 million devices it sold in 2015 during the iPhone 6 / 6Plus boom.
Nikkei staff writer Alex Fang of New York contributed to this report.