But any lift that Apple gets by becoming China Mobile’s new luxury phone could quickly fade, said another Canalys analyst, James Wang.
“We expect this advantage can only last three months and Samsung will bring out its next flagship model soon,” he said.
Samsung also caters to less-affluent households in China by selling its line of smartphones through a mix of carriers with prices as low as 1,000 yuan ($150). Other smartphone makers, including Huawei and Xiaomi, also sell cheap smartphones in China.
Apple has been selling the iPhone primarily through China Mobile rivals China Telecom Ltd. and China Unicom Ltd., which have more than 450 million accountholders combined. China Unicom pays 2,500 yuan ($410) of the iPhone’s 5,499 yuan ($900) cost in exchange for a customer signing a two-year contract to pay a minimum of 186 yuan ($30) per month.
Analysts believe China Mobile will have to match those terms to achieve significant sales.
The existing sales channels haven’t been enough to prevent Apple’s market share in China from slipping. Apple’s share of China’s smartphone sales declined to 6 percent in the third quarter from 8 percent a year earlier, according to research firm Canalys. Meanwhile, Samsung’s share expanded from 14 percent to 21 percent.
About 50 million iPhones have been sold in China in the past 2 1/2 years, according to analyst estimates. That translates to about 15 percent of the nearly 313 million iPhones that Apple sold during that span.
Apple CEO Tim Cook sees much bigger things to come. Earlier this year, he told the official Xinhua News Agency in January that he expects China to surpass the United States as the iPhone’s biggest market.
Apple’s stock rose $18.18, or 3.3 percent, to $567.20 in afternoon trading Monday.
Bringing China Mobile on board took Apple years to pull off. The talks between the two companies began in 2009, China Mobile President Li Yue said last year.