SAN FRANCISCO — A long-sought deal to sell the iPhone through China Mobile should enable Apple to boost its profits and build customer loyalty in an important, growing market.
China Mobile, the world’s largest wireless carrier, boasts more than 750 million mobile accounts, an audience that had been mostly walled off from the iPhone until Apple and China Mobile hammered out a multi-year sales agreement after years of thorny negotiations. The companies announced the deal Sunday (Monday in China).
Analysts doubt the China Mobile breakthrough will prompt Apple Inc. to introduce an extremely cheap iPhone as the Cupertino, Calif., company clings to a higher standard of quality. That approach is likely to ensure that smartphones running Google’s Android software remain the top-selling devices in China.
Even so, investors are pleased to see Apple fill a gaping hole in the iPhone’s sales network. Apple’s stock rose more than 3 percent Monday, propelled by analysts projecting that the China Mobile deal could lift iPhone sales and Apple’s earnings by more than 10 percent next year.
But even with China Mobile Ltd.’s vast state-owned network, marketing power and massive customer base, the iPhone still faces significant hurdles in the world’s most populous nation.
Apple’s smartphone is already available in China through two smaller carriers, China Telecom, and China Unicom. Although it is popular with well-heeled Chinese consumers, the iPhone is losing market share to lower-priced smartphones from Samsung and local brands. Most of the less expensive iPhone rivals rely on Android, which Google Inc. launched five years ago as an alternative to Apple’s then-dominant smartphone.
Now, more than 80 percent of the smartphones sold around the world run Android, compared with 13 percent for the iPhone, according to the research firm International Data Corp.