China was the star of Apple ‘s quarterly earnings on July 22. But the relationship isn’t reciprocal. Seen from the People’s Republic, the U.S. tech group is far from the leader, and faces a bitter battle with large rivals U.S. consumers have barely heard of, like Xiaomi and Coolpad. As they gain share too, Apple will struggle to be more than an also-ran.
Apple’s phone surge in China looks impressive on the face of it. The group sold 48 percent more smartphones in three months ending June, compared to the same period last year, for Greater China, which includes sales from Hong Kong and Taiwan. Its tie-up with China Mobile, the country’s dominant telecoms provider, helped.
The group doesn’t break down how many iPhones were shipped by geography, but it sold 4.2 million in the Chinese mainland in the same quarter of 2013, according to data provider Canalys. That suggests about 6 million for the most recent three month period, almost a fifth of Apple’s global iPhone sales.
But China’s mammoth consumer market flatters even bit-part players. The U.S. group has been lapped by Beijing-based Xiaomi: it became China’s third biggest smartphone vendor in the first quarter of 2014, behind Lenovo and Samsung . Xiaomi sold 21 million phones in the first half of 2014, nearly 4 times what it managed last year. Fellow domestic maker Coolpad hasn’t yet revealed numbers, but has said sales grew significantly over the same period.
China’s smartphone boom has been breathtaking – a July report by the China Internet Network Information Centre showed 83 percent of web users employ smartphones to access the net, greater than the number that use traditional PCs. But phone growth is winding down. After a whopping 88 percent increase in sales last year, Canalys forecasts the market to grow by just 17 percent this year. Reaching dominance while growth is rapid will be tough while larger local rivals are also mopping up. In China, being big is not always big enough.