Apple Inc.’s new iPhones are expected to come with vibrant full-screen displays, wireless charging and other cutting-edge technology. But consumers in China can get those features on other devices already — and without the sticker shock.
Shoppers in the world’s biggest mobile market are accustomed to getting the latest technology with their Huawei, Oppo and Xiaomi handsets. That makes it harder for Apple to convince jaded customers that marrying such attributes with its own software is worth the much higher price tag.
That’s a problem for Apple in the market that matters most to the Cupertino giant beyond its home country. While it sticks to a global template that’s served it well, local vendors have become adept at technology design while tailoring phones to local tastes, such as with dual SIM capability. In a show of confidence, Huawei Technologies Co., Xiaomi Corp. and likely Vivo — far from front-running or avoiding the iPhone the way movie studios juggle summer tentpoles — are tackling the US company head-on by timing new products around the publicity avalanche sure to engulf Apple’s Sept. 12 launch.
After six straight quarters of falling sales in Greater China
and a share-price rally fueled by expectations for the 10th-anniversary device, the stakes are enormous.
“The challenge comes from Vivo, Oppo and Huawei, they can replace Apple in high-end markets priced around $500, even as Apple remains dominant in the ultra high-end $600 plus segment,” said Kiranjeet Kaur, an analyst with industry consultancy IDC. “We don’t expect big growth as China’s market is now very saturated. The biggest demand for the new iPhone will come from the replacement market.”
Apple has a lot riding on the biggest re-design of the iPhone in the post-Steve Jobs era, with its new flagship tipped to cost about $1,000. On Tuesday, it will lift the lid on three new models of the device that ushered in the modern smartphone age, alongside a higher-powered Apple TV and a watch that can connect to LTE cellular data networks, Bloomberg has reported.
While users wait for the new hardware, Apple has previewed its iOS 11 operating system which has added features for Chinese users. That includes a photo app that allows scanning of the near ubiquitous QR codes that drive the country’s mobile payment systems, a keyboard that makes Chinese characters easier to input and a new mapping app that shows traffic camera locations.
The iPhone remains the world’s best-selling phone model and continues to win praise for Apple’s hallmark fusion of software and hardware.
Its iOS ecosystem has locked in millions who’ve built up valuable music and movie libraries. There’s the possibility of a surprise killer feature beyond the usually well-telegraphed bells and whistles. And Apple’s “best, not first” mindset has served it well in the past.
“Apple hasn’t done a big design change since 2014 but Huawei and Vivo kept releasing new devices,” Kaur added. “To many Chinese, having the latest iPhone is also a social status symbol.”
Yet now more than ever, China boasts a coterie of technology champions that have already won over consumers, using not just tricked-out gadgets but also faster product updates to push Apple to fifth place last quarter. The company’s revenue in Greater China, which includes Hong Kong and Taiwan, fell 10 percent in the latest quarter — the only region to experience a year-on-year decline. While revenue was little changed in mainland China, Counterpoint has put the iPhone’s share of the over $600 device market at 80 percent and sales are growing in urban areas.
Xiaomi, showing signs of bouncing back from its worst shipment declines in its seven-year history, is going to unveil the Mi MIX 2 a day before Apple’s event. The new phone, a second-generation to a model developed with designer Philippe Starck featuring a ceramic body and bezel-less screen, takes it deeper into Apple’s high-end territory.