China’s smartphone users are pitting US smartphone giant Apple against its domestic tech rival Huawei Technologies with the ongoing rivalry between Washington and Beijing spilling into the smartphone arena.
On Wednesday, Apple’s globally anticipated event to launch its latest iPhone 15 saw mixed reactions in China – the company’s third largest market – with wide comparisons between the phone and Huawei’s latest Mate 60 Pro.
While many online users liked the latest iPhone’s faster chip and improved gaming capabilities, many had misgivings about choosing an American brand over a domestically made rival.
A survey by Chinese news portal Sina, on social media platform Weibo, asking participants if they would buy the Mate 60 or iPhone 15 saw 61,000 votes for the Huawei device versus 24,000 for the iPhone 15.
Comparisons of how the Mate 60 Pro could make calls and send texts via satellite, while the iPhone 15 was only capable of satellite texts, also generated significant discussion.
“The iPhone 15 can only send SOS messages via satellite, using last-generation technology already deployed in Huawei’s Mate 60, which supports full satellite calling,” one user wrote.
Comparisons such as these were not new, however. China’s smartphone users have been comparing the two brands since Huawei’s latest phone launch. Some have even compared crowds at the stores of the two firms, all with a tinge of patriotic fervour.
The unveiling of Apple’s iPhone 15 attracted intense discussion online on Wednesday, as new models have done in the past. The new phone goes on sale online in China on Alibaba’s Tmall marketplace on September 15, and in stores on September 22.
Topics discussing the new launch attracted 380 million views on Weibo, with more than 800,000 discussions, including posts, comments and likes, on the iPhone 15.
Many cheered the iPhone 15 Pro’s new 3 nanometer chip and Apple’s pitch that console-quality games such as “Resident Evil 4 Remake”, can be played on the device, appealing to China’s army of mobile gamers.
China remains key market for Apple, where it occupies a leading position in the premium smartphone market. Its lead is, in part, due to the decimation of Huawei’s smartphone business by US export controls.
But the company has also come under scrutiny in China in the run-up to the iPhone 15’s launch. Shares in Apple and its suppliers were battered last week after reports that Chinese government agencies and state firms were banning staff from using the phone. Beijing has denied the reports.
The slump also followed Huawei’s Mate 60 launch, with the phone touting an advanced chip, seen as a breakthrough for the Chinese firm attempting a comeback.
Chinese state media too applauded the Mate 60 Pro rollout ahead of the Apple event, citing it as a triumph by China over US sanctions.
China’s smartphone market, like the sector globally, is in the midst of a slump and analysts cautioned that this, and the country’s slowing economy, could also weigh on sales of the iPhone 15.
Apple’s third-party retailers in February launched rare discounts on the iPhone 14 Pro by as much as 10% that helped sales but could undermine demand for the latest series, analysts said.
“This is not a good signal for the upcoming 15 series as some demands have been fulfilled before the launch,” said Archie Zhang, a research analyst at Counterpoint. “Before Huawei’s surprise launch, we projected Apple’s sales in China Q3 and Q4 to be flat or slightly weaker than last year.”
Will Wong, an analyst with industry research group IDC, saw recent public sector developments and Huawei posing a challenge for Apple.
“Sales [of the iPhone 15] are not going to be easy, especially since Chinese consumers are either being cautious in spending or shifted their focus to leisure or travel,” he added.
IDC expects Apple’s share in China’s premium phone market will gradually decline due to increased competition from Huawei.
For the first half of 2023, Apple held 67% of market share for phones priced over $600, followed by Huawei with 15.6%.
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