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Opinion: By the iPhone’s 10th anniversary, China will be Apple’s biggest market

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The old world was a simple one. Apple needed two things to succeed: a well-off market willing to pay a premium price for its products, and a low-cost manufacturing base to build them. The U.S. and Europe provided the former, China the latter.

The idea that China could become Apple’s biggest market in less than a decade would have seemed unimaginable back when the first iPhone went on sale in 2007. It now looks inevitable.

Let’s run the numbers … 

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Opinion: Despite recent reports, Apple is far from doomed in China

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From some recent news reports and analyst pronouncements, we could easily get the impression that the relatively weak Chinese economy poses a major threat to Apple. The argument doing the rounds is that China is where Apple is seeing most of its growth at present, and the Chinese economy is tanking.

It’s absolutely the case that the importance of China to Apple cannot be overstated. Apple does continue to grow its sales in both the Americas and Europe, of course, and there is no suggestion that this is showing any sign of slowing, despite a saturated smartphone market. But worldwide growth of 33% was dwarfed by that seen in China, as one recent graph vividly illustrated.

If Chinese demand for Apple products were indeed to weaken significantly, there is no doubt that this would be a major problem for Apple. But it seems to me that the issue is being substantially over-stated … 

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Tim Cook believes China will be Apple’s biggest market – and it’s not hard to see why

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One of the most remarkable numbers revealed yesterday by Apple was that revenue in Greater China – the term used to describe mainland China plus Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan – more than doubled in the past year. Year-on-year revenue in the region more than doubled, compared to Apple’s already impressive worldwide growth of 33% … 

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UBS matches KGI’s upbeat forecast for Q2 iPhone sales of 51M, well above consensus

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UBS has matched the upbeat iPhone forecast made last month by KGI for Q2 (Apple’s fiscal Q3), both analysts estimating sales of 51M – well above the consensus expectation of 45M.

KGI’s Ming-Chi Kuo predicts 51.4M, saying that while he believes iPhone sales have peaked, demand will remain higher than the normal seasonal pattern. UBS forecast 51.1M, noting that Apple’s “continued surge” in China is a key factor, where the premium market remains strong despite reports of the country approaching saturation point in smartphones.

Both analysts have strong track-records, Ming-Chi Kuo being our go-to guy for supply-chain rumors, and UBS producing a graph to show the accuracy of its past predictions (below) … 

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Apple to grow retail stores in China from 15 to 40 within two years, says Cook

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Tim Cook noted during Monday’s earnings call that Apple was “investing like crazy” in China, but he took the opportunity of his current visit to the country to put a specific number on the company’s retail expansion plans: it will open 25 new Apple Stores in Greater China within the next two years. Greater China includes both Hong Kong and Taiwan.

Speaking to local media, Cook also said that China would in time become Apple’s biggest market, reports the WSJ … 

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The changing world map of Apple’s customers in two charts

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Apple’s efforts to secure the China Mobile deal were long, drawn out and likely involved rather more negotiation than the company is used to. But if you ever had any doubts as to the importance of those efforts in China, Japan and elsewhere in the Asia-Pacific region, the above two charts, compiled by Fortune, make the reason very clear.

The bad news for Apple is that revenue from its two biggest segments — Europe and the Americas — have begun to contract, not just as a percentage of total revenue, but in dollar terms as well. The good news is that Japan, Asia Pacific and Greater China have so far more than taken up the slack. In Q1 2014, Apple’s combined Asian sales were $17.4 billion, more than Europe ($13 billion) and closing in on the Americas ($20 billion).

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Tim Cook talks product pipeline, 5-inch iPhone, growth in China, supply chain, and more

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Apple CEO Tim Cook is currently answering questions from the press following the company’s live Q2 2013 earnings call.  Here are some of the highlights:

Cook on growth in China:

We had our best quarter ever in greater China. Revenue came in at 8.8B. That’s up 11 percent y-o-y. It’s the same as Apple’s growing… iPads grew 138% y-o-y… set new records for sell through for iPhone…

Added about 8000 iPhone point of sales, plan to add more and further grow our distribution. Innovating with our online store there and adding different functionality to the store. China has an usually large number of potential first time smartphone buyers… We’ve seen a significant interest in iPhone 4 there and recently made it even more affordable to make it even more attractive to first time buyers.

Cook on competition:

“In the beginning RIM was the strongest player. Of course today our top competitor from a hardware point of view would be Samsung, and married to Google on the software side. They’re obviously tough competitors but we feel we have the best products by far… continue to feel very confident about our product pipeline. We have the best ecosystem by far. We’re going to keep augmenting it and making it better and better. I feel very good about our competitive position.”

On new product pipeline:

“I’m just saying we’ve got really great stuff coming in the fall, and across all of 2014.”

Cook on confidence level in supply chain and moving to new vendors:

“I have incredible confidence. We exited the March quarter with no shortages. The December quarter you’re referring to is the largest for Apple.. The reality is the work we do to create truly innovate products is hard… I would assure you we are working very closely with our manufacturing partners for what we feel is a very exciting roadmap.”

On a larger screen iPhone:

My view continues to be that iPhone 5 has the absolute best display in the industry. We always strive to create the very best display for our customers. Some customers value large screen sizes. Others value other factors such as resolution, white balance, color, portability, clarity, compatibility with apps… Our competitors have made some significant trade offs in many areas in order to ship a larger display. We will not ship a larger display iPhone while these trade offs exist.

On Mac market:

The reason we were down last quarter, we were down 2%, is because the market is incredibly weak. It’s the largest decline I remember from being in this industry for a long time. It’s certainly true that some iPads cannabalized some Macs. I don’t think it was a huge number but i do think it was some… That said, i don’t think this market is a dead market or a bad market by any means… We’re going to continue to innovate in it… if anything the huge growth in tablets might end up benefiting the Mac… People may be more willing to buy a Mac… We’re going to continue making the best personal computers. Our strategy is no changing. we delivered some incredible innovation last year with the Retina Display MacBook Pro.

Nearly one in six dollars of Apple’s revenue coming from China

There have been signs and indications of China’s growing importance to Apple’s bottom line before. In the June quarter the company grew China revenues sixfold, to an astounding $3.8 billion, or nearly eight percent of its total revenue for the quarter. Just three months later, however, the business in China has ballooned to $4.52 billion, an impressive sixteen percent of Apple’s total $28.27 billion revenue for the September quarter. China contributed with twelve percent in the more than $108 billion of fiscal 2011 revenue, or about fifteen billion dollars. Last year revenue from China was just three billion dollars and in 2009 only two percent of Apple’s total revenue.

In other words, one in six dollars of Apple’s quarterly revenue came from China (almost one-in-eight looking at fiscal 2011). The 1.33 billion people country is now Apple’s second-best revenue market. Moreover, revenue for the entire Asia Pacific region grew by 139 percent year over year to $6.53 billion, with CPU units climbing by 61 percent (three percent revenue and eighteen percent CPU units sequential growth). Compared to a 34 percent annual revenue growth in the Americas ($9.64 billion) or a 36 percent growth in Europe ($7.39 billion).

It’s clear now that the Asia Pacific region is Apple’s fastest-growing market, outpacing Europe and the Americas by nearly four times. In fact, Asia Pacific raked in nearly two-thirds of the Americas’ revenue, Apple’s top revenue market. And at four times larger growth, the Asia Pacific region could become Apple’s #1 revenue generator by this time next year.


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CEO Tim Cook said in a conference call with Wall Street analysts that “the China progress has been amazing”, calling it an “enormous opportunity” for Apple. It’s bound to grow even bigger as Apple builds more stores to increase its distribution footprint there. Apple operates five flagship retail stores in China which combined had the most traffic in the quarter. The company has managed to build an impressive thirty retail stores worldwide during the quarter, including massive outlets in Hong Kong and Shanghai, the latter being pictured below.

There were as of this writing more than seven thousand points of sale for the iPhone in Greater China. In total, iPhone has 120,000 points of sale around the world and iPad and iPod are now carried in 40,000 and 50,000 points of sale, respectively. They should open at least 25 new stores in China within the next few years and 40 outlets around the world in the next quarter, with 30 outside the United States.

Other markets to watch? More after the break…


Apple’s Nanjing East Road store in Shanghai



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