Though China Telecom recently began selling the iPhone, Apple’s share of the smartphone market in China still lags behind Samsung whose share is surprisingly 3 times as large as Apple’s. All told, Apple’s share of the Chinese smartphone market is 7.5% while Samsung’s is 24.3%.
As opposed to Apple, Samsung has been willing to play ball with all three of China’s mobile carriers – China Unicom, China Telecom, and China Mobile. Apple’s iPhone, on the other hand, was for the longest time available only on China Unicom before China Telecom began carrying the iPhone recently.
But the golden goose in this equation is undoubtedly China Mobile which has well over 650 million mobile subscribers. Now the reason Apple hasn’t thus far been able to get the iPhone onto China Mobile is because China Mobile employs a proprietary cellular standard on their network (TD-SCDMA) and Apple, to date, has balked at manufacturing an iPhone with hardware that can run on China Mobile’s network.
So in comes Samsung and picks up all the pieces.
The 16.8 percentage-point gap in China between Cupertino, California-based Apple and Samsung almost doubled from the third quarter. While Samsung is No. 1 and Apple No. 5 in China, the global story is different: Worldwide, Apple passed its Suwon, South Korea-based competitor to become the biggest smartphone vendor in the fourth quarter, according to Gartner.
Apple’s partnerships with China’s second- and third-largest carriers give it access to about 34 percent of the nation’s 988 million mobile users,
Now that Apple has jumped on the 4G LTE train with the iPad 3, it’s likely that the iPhone 5 will support 4G LTE as well. This is significant because previous reports have hinted that Apple will finally manufacture specialized iPhone hardware for China Mobile’s proprietary TD-LTE network.
Specifically, China Mobile Chairman Wang Jianzhou back in September intimated that Apple had given a thumbs up to producing an a TD-LTE compliant iPhone.
“We discussed this issue with Apple,” Jianzhou said in an interview, “we hope Apple will produce a new iPhone with TD-LTE. We have already got a positive answer from Apple.”
And during a China Mobile shareholder meeting held this past August, a company chairman reportedly boasted that a TD-LTE compliant iPhone was in the works. Further, in 2011, both Steve Jobs and Tim Cook held high-level talks with China Mobile executives regarding bringing the iPhone to the world’s largest carrier.
So while Samsung is sitting pretty for the time being, that dynamic may change in just a few months provided the iPhone 5 (or perhaps it will simply be called the new iPhone) hits China Mobile.