Apple's initial iPhone 13 pre-orders in China surpass last year's as market offers fewer premium handsets amid Huawei's decline

5G, Apple, smartphone, Huawei Technologies Co, struggle under US trade sanctions, without 5G mobile support, Alibaba Group Holding, US-blacklisted Huawei, formerly China’s biggest smartphone vendor, tighter restrictions imposed last year, fourth biggest smartphone vendor, Oppo, Vivo, Xiaomi, Tim Cook, Huawei was blacklisted by Washington, Weibo

Chinese consumers have placed more than 2 million pre-orders for the new 5G iPhone 13 line through Apple’s official store on JD.com as of Thursday, surpassing the 1.5 million iPhone 12 pre-orders on the same platform a year earlier, as the world’s largest smartphone market finds fewer high-end models on offer amid the decline of Huawei Technologies Co.

The iPhone 13, which was introduced on Tuesday in the US, stands out as this year’s go-to high-end smartphone in China because of Huawei’s inability to provide equally compelling premium handsets, as it continues to struggle under US trade sanctions, according to Counterpoint Research senior analyst Ethan Qi.

“There isn’t a smartphone [in the market] which can be a threat to the iPhone 13 above the 5,000 yuan (US$776) price range,” Qi said. “There isn’t a product that is as strong as the old Huawei Mate series.”

In July, Huawei launched its latest flagship Android smartphones, the P50 and P50 Pro, without 5G mobile support because of restrictions that block the company’s access to advanced US technologies.

Consumer interest for the iPhone 13 line was also high on Alibaba Group Holding’s Tmall platform, which will start pre-orders on Friday in line with Apple’s official presales kick-off. Many consumers are logging on to chat with customer service agents on Tmall, with some waiting in line for about 60 people to finish their inquiries, according to Chinese media. Alibaba owns the South China Morning Post.

5G, Apple, smartphone, Huawei Technologies Co, struggle under US trade sanctions, without 5G mobile support, Alibaba Group Holding, US-blacklisted Huawei, formerly China’s biggest smartphone vendor, tighter restrictions imposed last year, fourth biggest smartphone vendor, Oppo, Vivo, Xiaomi, Tim Cook, Huawei was blacklisted by Washington, Weibo

Huawei Technologies Co has seen its Android handset sales fall in China, the world’s largest smartphone market, as it struggles to cope with US trade sanctions.

The new iPhone 13 models were priced lower than the iPhone 12 line, which has surprised many Chinese consumers. Pricing for the new models in China starts at 5,199 yuan for the iPhone 13 Mini, 5,999 yuan for the iPhone 13 and 7,999 yuan for the iPhone 13 Pro. That makes these devices about 300 yuan to 800 yuan cheaper than the corresponding models in the iPhone 12 line.

That strategy could help boost overall smartphone sales in the market.

Smartphone shipments in mainland China declined 17 per cent to 74.9 million units in the second quarter, compared with 90.7 million a year ago, as the void left in the market by US-blacklisted Huawei could not be filled by the country’s other big Android handset vendors, according to a report by tech research firm Canalys in July.

Shenzhen-based Huawei, the world’s largest telecommunications equipment maker and formerly China’s biggest smartphone vendor, has been one of the major casualties of rising US-China tensions. It is now struggling with tighter restrictions imposed last year, covering access to chips developed or produced using US technology, from anywhere.

Apple, meanwhile, continues to thrive in mainland China, where Canalys ranked it as the market’s fourth biggest smartphone vendor behind Oppo, Vivo and Xiaomi in the second quarter.

The world’s most valuable company, with a market capitalisation of US$2.5 trillion as of Wednesday, recorded revenue of US$14.8 billion in its Greater China region, including Hong Kong and Taiwan, in the quarter ended June 26. That was up 58.2 per cent from US$9.3 billion in the same period last year on the back of strong iPhone 12 sales, according to Apple chief executive Tim Cook during an earnings call in July.

In 2019, Apple was briefly the target of a nationalist pushback in China that called for a boycott of its products after Huawei was blacklisted by Washington. Since then, the US company has successfully engaged with young Chinese consumers.

In February, Cook staged a virtual talk show with a 22-year-old Chinese influencer in an apparent effort to appease young consumers. Cook also remains the chairman of the advisory board at Tsinghua University’s School of Economics and Management.

Counterpoint’s Qi said the iPhone 13 is poised to continue with the strong momentum of the iPhone 12 line, which was released in October last year.

“There are reasons to believe that the iPhone 13 would sell less because of the lack of new features,” he said. “But considering Huawei’s plight, we think the iPhone 13 will sell just as well [as the previous line].”

While the hashtag #LiningUpForiPhoneOnTmall has been trending on Chinese microblogging platform Weibo, with related posts picking up more than 200 million views, there are people online who continue to advocate for Chinese brands.

“I thought we were supposed to support Huawei and other Chinese brands,” one Weibo commentator posted online. “But it seems like better products speak louder than patriotism.”

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