Apple makes big inroads in Chinese smartphone market

When you think of smartphones in China, you tend to think of Chinese brands such as Huawei, vivo and OPPO. But according to the analysts at Counterpoint Research, Apple took over the top smartphone spot in China toward the end of this year.

Apple surpassed vivo in October 2021 to become the largest smartphone original equipment manufacturer (OEM) in China for the first time since December 2015, according to Counterpoint Research. Driven by the iPhone 13 series, Apple’s sales grew 46% month over month (MoM), the highest among all major OEMs in the country. 

China’s smartphone market overall grew only 2% MoM in October.

Counterpoint chart

Apple’s stellar show came at a time when many consumers were delaying their purchases ahead of the Singles’ Day sales on November 11. Singles’ Day is an unofficial Chinese holiday for shopping that celebrates people who are not in relationships.

Counterpoint Research Director Tarun Pathak said in a statement, “Ever since Huawei’s decline, the top position in China has been changing hands. OPPO became #1 in January 2021 while vivo attained the top position in March 2021. The market dynamics changed again in October with Apple becoming the new #1 OEM for the first time since December 2015.”

This was driven by the success of the iPhone 13 series, which launched cheaper than the iPhone 12 series in China. 

Counterpoint said that Huawei has been resilient in the premium segment in China, but this seems to be changing now with Chinese premium customers desiring Apple phones. 

Apple could have gained more

If it were not for supply chain shortages, especially for the Pro versions of Apple phones, Apple could have gained even more during the fall season.

Counterpoint Senior Analyst Varun Mishra said that as of late November, “Due to supply issues, the normal wait time for the iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro Max ranges between four and five weeks in China. Some Chinese customers choose to pay premiums to get the new phones delivered immediately.”

Global smartphone leaders

In September IDC analyst Simon Baker said Samsung held the top spot among global smartphone makers. After Samsung, China-based Xiaomi comes next, followed by Apple, then the Chinese multi-brand group, Transsion.

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But at the holding company level, the Chinese holding group BBK, which encompasses the brands OPPO, vivo, OnePlus and realme, is the top maker of smartphones.