Apple takes top spot in China’s smartphone market for the first time as Huawei returns to the top 5


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Apple CEO Tim Cook holds up a new iPhone 15 Pro during an Apple event on Sept. 12, 2023, in Cupertino, California.
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Apple for the first time became the largest smartphone vendor in China by shipments, new data for 2023 released on Thursday showed.

The iPhone maker’s market share in China stood at 17.3% in 2023, according to the International Data Corporation (IDC), a record-high for the firm in the world’s second-largest economy.

Apple’s overall smartphone shipments fell 2.2% year-on-year in 2023, while the overall market fell 5%, IDC said. Shipments are the devices that Apple sends to its third-party sellers and does not equal direct sales. However, they are an indication of demand.

“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,” Arthur Guo, senior research analyst at IDC China, said in a press release.

“Apple achieved this thanks to timely price promotions in its third-party channels, which stimulated demand.”

Indeed, many of the online sales platforms in China offered discounts on the flagship iPhone 15 in the fourth quarter. Even this month, Apple made a rare move to offer discounts across the iPhone 15 range on its own website in China to keep up momentum.

China’s smartphone market has been hit because of an uncertain economic environment in the country and weak consumer spending.

In 2023, Honor, a spin-off from Chinese company Huawei, held the second spot with 16.8% market share, followed by Vivo, Huawei and then Oppo.

Another market research firm called Counterpoint Research also came out with China numbers on Thursday. Counterpoint said it expects the China market to record low single-digit year-on-year growth in 2024, the first year of growth since 2018.

Huawei resurgence

One of the biggest changes in 2023 was Huawei’s return to the top five ranking in China during the fourth quarter, after more than two years outside of the leading group.

Huawei was once China and the world’s biggest smartphone maker. But the Chinese tech giant’s handset business was crippled by U.S. sanctions which cut it off from key technologies like leading-edge semiconductors and software.

However, last year, Huawei debuted a phone that contained quite a cutting-edge semiconductor, manufactured by China’s biggest chipmaker SMIC. This was a big surprise considering U.S. sanctions had been designed to stop this happening.

That new phone, the Mate 60, has helped Huawei make big gains in China. Huawei shipments grew 36% year-on-year in the December quarter and it commanded a 13.9% market share, IDC said.

Huawei knocked Chinese electronics maker Xiaomi out of the top five.

“This will only intensify the competition as no vendors will want to lose a top 5 position in the world’s largest smartphone market,” Will Wong, senior research manager at IDC, said in a statement.