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Apple Becomes China’s Top Smartphone as Shipments Dip

Apple store, China

Apple’s troubles in China haven’t kept it from becoming the country’s smartphone leader.

The iPhone was the most popular phone among Chinese consumers in 2023, even as the company’s shipments there fell, according to research published Thursday (Jan. 25) by IDC.

The report showed Apple commanding 17.3% of the smartphone market share — up from 16.8% in 2022 — with China-based rival Huawei making it into the top five companies for the first time.

“Apple’s climb to the top spot in 2023, especially in light of renewed competition from Huawei and the soft spending sentiment, marks a tremendous success for Apple,” said Arthur Guo, senior research analyst in Client System Research for IDC China. “Apple achieved this thanks to timely price promotions in its third-party channels, which stimulated demand.”

In all, smartphone shipments in China totaled 271.3 million units last year, a 5% drop from 2022 and the lowest volume in a decade. The report attributed this to a “soft economic recovery and weak consumer sentiment.”

These findings follow IDC’s report last week on the global smartphone market, which showed a similar pattern: Apple on top — supplanting Samsung for the first time ever — but overall smartphone sales at their lowest point in a decade.

Recent weeks have seen a string of negative reports surrounding Apple’s sales in China, with the company last week announcing discounts on the latest iPhone models amid waning demand.

Apple has also faced greater restrictions on iPhone usage in China, which barred government workers and employees of government-owned businesses from using the devices.

This month also saw a report by analysts from Jefferies that iPhone sales in China had dropped by 30% for the first week of 2024. The analysts argued that Apple will face more pressure from rivals throughout this year, and projected that the company’s shipment volumes in China will continue dropping by double digits in 2024, while Huawei increases its market share.

And Barclays recently forecast ongoing weak demand for the iPhone, causing the company’s stock to drop and erasing more than $107 billion in market value.

“We expect reversion after a year when most quarters were missed and the stock outperformed,” the bank’s analysts wrote in a note. “Our checks remain negative on volumes and mix for iPhone 15, and we see no features or upgrades that are likely to make the iPhone 16 more compelling.”