That pecking order isn’t likely to change, even if analysts prove correct in their predictions that the China Mobile deal will help Apple sell anywhere from 10 million to 40 million iPhones next year. Those numbers should help Apple increase its iPhone sales volume from 150 million devices in its last fiscal year, but it won’t make that much of dent in overall market share. More than 1 billion smartphones were sold in 2013 alone, including 528 million in Asia, according to IDC.
“China Mobile and Apple working together isn’t fundamentally going to be a game changer in the smartphone market,” said Forrester Research analyst Frank Gillett.
In September, Apple did introduce a lower-priced iPhone called the 5C, but it’s only $100 cheaper than the high-end 5S. Apple and China Mobile didn’t announce pricing or the terms of their agreement. The average price of iPhones in Apple’s most recent quarter stood at $577, which is likely to be more expensive than most Chinese consumers can afford.
Although Apple might eventually introduce a slightly lower priced iPhone designed especially for the Chinese market, Gillett said the company “is never going to go chasing the bottom of the barrel.”
The iPhone 5S and 5C will go on sale in Apple and China Mobile stores beginning Jan. 17. China Mobile customers can register for phones starting today.
There are still plenty of higher-income China Mobile customers that have been pining for the iPhone, especially the 5S in a gold-plated color that is considered a sign of prestige in China. A key issue is whether it leads to additional sales or only prompts existing iPhone owners to switch to China Mobile.
The timing of the China Mobile deal is ideally set for a surge in iPhone sales. The release will come just two weeks before China’s Lunar New Year holiday at the end of January, a big gift-buying season.