updated 09:08 am EDT, Thu May 24, 2012
Microsoft retreats from previous sales claims
In a pair of related developments, Microsoft has retreated from earlier claims that its phone OS was more popular in China than iOS just as new figures for the first quarter of 2011 show that Apple has nearly tripled its sales of iPhones in the country and raised its share from eight to 19 percent, mostly due to the launch of the iPhone 4S, which was launched with two of China's major carriers in January to great demand and some crowd issues.
Woori Investment and Securities says Apple sold around 6.2 million iPhones in calendar Q1, up from 2.1 million in the previous quarter, an increase of almost 200 percent. This is despite the iPhone still not being officially available on China's largest carrier, China Mobile, which would offer a 660 million-strong subscriber base. Despite not being official, China Mobile has over 15 million "gray market" users with the iPhone on its network, though users on that network are limited to 2G data. The iPhone is currently sold mostly through China Unicom and China Telecom, the next two largest carriers.
While Apple's growth in China is impressive, it is still far behind Samsung in terms of marketshare in China. Samsung's sales in the country were around nine million in Q1, up from 6.7 million in the fourth quarter, but more importantly raising its marketshare to 28 percent (up from 24 percent), making it the largest-selling brand.
Samsung, however, has a natural but declining advantage: it sells feature phones as well as smartphones, and the former type of cell phones still make up around 70 percent of the market in China. Smartphone usage is exploding, however, having increased 156 percent year-over-year to an overall 32 million in sales during the first quarter.
Apple's 19 percent share in China in Q1 raises it to a 16 percent overall smartphone market share, more than double the numbers it saw in quarterly figures across 2011. Whether it can sustain that level of growth may be in doubt in the short term, however, as Samsung is planning to bring its flagship Galaxy S III smartphone to the country next month. The Galaxy S II first debuted in China last summer, with a dual-sim CDMA/GSM version showing up at the beginning of this year, boosting sales.
Microsoft's earlier claims of its Windows Phone OS being slightly more popular in China than iOS have been retracted, or at least walked back by the company, which now says it doesn't reveal marketshare numbers but "is encouraged" by sales in China, suggesting a miscommunication by its COO for Greater China Michel van der Bel, the source of the original claim. Microsoft's retreat on the claim may have been based on selected 2011 sales figures, or speculative, and the more general correction was made prior to the release of the latest numbers.
China's 6.2 million iPhones sold in Q1 amounts to nearly 20 percent of the 35.1 million iPhones sold worldwide by the company in the first quarter. Apple is said to be in talks with China Mobile to officially debut the iPhone in the near future after years of anticipation, though both parties may wait until the expected fall debut of the next model before announcing a deal.