Chinese customers look at iphones at the official opening of the new Apple Store in the Sanlitun shopping area on July 17, 2020 in Beijing, China.
Kevin Frayer | Getty Images
Apple was the fastest-growing smartphone maker in China in the second quarter, according to research data, which showed that the iPhone maker bucked the overall decline in the world’s second-largest economy.
The cheaper iPhone SE and the popularity of the iPhone 11 series, along with deep discounts, helped Apple get a boost in one of its most critical markets.
The sell-through volume for iPhones in China was 7.4 million units in the April to June quarter, a 32% growth year-on-year, according to Counterpoint Research. Sell-through refers to iPhones that go to Apple’s retail partners and is a close gauge to actual sales to consumers.
In comparison, Chinese phone maker Huawei saw sell-through volumes of 36.6 million units, or up 14% compared to a year ago. Apple sells significantly fewer phones than Huawei in China.
Oppo, Vivo and Xiaomi, the brands that make up the rest of the top five biggest players in China, all saw significant declines, while the overall market fell 17% year-on-year.
Separately, figures from Shanghai-based CINNO Research showed iPhone sales jumped 62% year-on-year to 13 million in the second quarter. CINNO Research tracks sales rather than sell-through. On a quarter-on-quarter basis, iPhone sales jumped 225%, coming off a low base but also highlighting a recovery for the Cupertino giant after the coronavirus outbreak forced closures of its stores in China and dented sales in the three months that ended in March.
“iPhone 11 remains the best-selling model in China. iPhone 11 has consecutively led as the best-selling model in China since last September, which indicates the strong brand power of Apple amongst Chinese consumers,” Flora Tang, research analyst at Counterpoint Research, told CNBC by email.
The latest third-party figures come ahead of the release of Apple’s official fiscal third quarter earnings on Thursday.
Apple also offered big discounts on iPhones during a major online Chinese shopping festival in June which helped keep the momentum going. The cheaper second-generation iPhone SE was also among the top 3 best-selling iPhones in China in the second quarter, Counterpoint Research said in a note.
On the services front, Apple also appeared fairly resilient. The App Store generated $ 4.4 billion in gross revenue in the second quarter, down 4% from $ 4.6 billion in the first quarter, according to data from Sensor Tower. However, that was a 13% year-on-year rise.
“Spending on China’s App Store typically increases between Q1 and Q2 each year, but the Q/Q decline this year could be attributed to the ecosystem there normalizing following the height of COVID-19 in the country,” Stephanie Chan, mobile insights strategist, told CNBC by email.
All eyes on iPhone 12
China turned on its 5G networks last November and its domestic smartphone makers have launched 5G-capable devices. 5G refers to next-generation mobile networks that promise super-fast data speeds.
A third of smartphones sold in China in the second quarter were 5G handsets, the highest adoption in the world, according to Counterpoint Research.
However, Apple does not yet have a 5G iPhone. But several analysts expect the next iPhone model, potentially named the iPhone 12, to support 5G.
“We expect 5G iPhones to gain immediate traction in China, if Apple goes for a juicy pricing strategy. Chinese consumers have been well educated about the benefits of 5G, and Chinese telecom operators are promoting competitively priced 5G plans,” Counterpoint Research’s Tang said.
Daniel Ives, analyst at Wedbush Securities, said in a note published Monday that Apple has seen “a continued demand snapback in China during the month of June and first half of July despite some speed bumps and the stage is setting up for a massive pent up iPhone 12 cycle heading into the Fall in this key region as well as globally.”
He anticipates that 60 million to 70 million iPhones in China are in the “window of an upgrade opportunity over the next year with Apple going aggressively at all price points (SE, iPhone 12) to cement its installed base despite competitive pressures from domestic players.”