China is about to get an early Christmas present. Nearly three months after its debut in the US, the new generation iPhone 5 will finally become available to Chinese consumers on December 14th. What took it so long? Well, one circulating rumour suggests that Apple have timed the iPhone 5 launch to coincide with the widespread expiry of previous iPhone contracts – it has, after all, been two years since the iPhone 4 dropped in the region.
The long wait has done serious harm to Apple’s market share in China, cutting it approximately in half as impatient smartphone users, keen to get their hands on the latest technology, switch to alternative brands. The iPhone 5’s entry into China is accompanied by a price hike, with the 16GB model going for around 300yuan more than the iPhone 4S did, and the 32GB and 64GB costing up to 100yuan more.
Despite these obstacles that Apple seems to be purposely putting in its own way, buzz on micro-blogging platform Sina Weibo has been steadily building in anticipation of this week’s release, and analysts at Canalys predict that the iPhone 5 will outsell previous models (helped massively by the imminent gifting season).
A large portion of buyers will be offsetting the increased cost by purchasing subsidised contracts with mobile providers like China Unicom and China Telecom. Pre-orders with China Unicom exceeded 100,000 in the first day, according to a report by Sina Tech.
However, the iPhone 5 may soon face fierce competition on the Chinese market in the form of the Windows-based Nokia Lumia 920T, which will be available without contract before the end of 2012. Stephen Elop, the CEO and President of Nokia, said in a statement: “We are delighted to partner with China Mobile, the world’s largest operator, to introduce China’s first Lumia based on Windows Phone 8. People around the world are responding positively to the new Lumia devices, and we’re confident that the enthusiasm will extend to China with the Lumia 920T.”
The iPhone’s crown has been slipping slightly this year, with arch rival Android making huge steps forward in technological innovation and releasing product after product across Samsung, LG, HTC and Motorola. And while Apple remains one of the favourite smartphone brands in China, a wider range of choices may serve to further split the market in coming months.