Apple Reaches its Highest Ever Market Share in China

  • Smartphone sales in China declined (9% YoY) for the third consecutive quarter in Q4 2021.
  • Full-year smartphone sales declined (2% YoY) for the fourth consecutive year in 2021
  • Apple surpassed vivo to become China’s #1 OEM for the first time since Q4 2015, capturing 23% market share, its highest ever.
  • realme was the fastest growing brand (83% YoY) in Q4 2021.
  • Four out of five smartphones sold in China in Q4 2021 were 5G capable.

Apple surpassed vivo in Q4 2021 to become the #1 brand in China after six years, when the iPhone 6 supercycle was at its peak. Q4 2021 also brought Apple its highest ever market share in China at 23%, according to Counterpoint Research’s Monthly Market Pulse Service. However, China’s smartphone sales in Q4 2021 declined 2% QoQ and 9% YoY, respectively. The country’s full-year smartphone sales also continued the downward trend for the fourth consecutive year, declining 2% YoY in 2021.

Commenting on the overall Chinese smartphone market, Senior Analyst Ivan Lam said, “The market in China continues to decline due to various factors in both the supply side and the demand side. Firstly, the ongoing component shortages are impacting shipments of all OEMs. Secondly, China’s average smartphone replacement cycle is becoming longer. Smartphone designs within brands have also become more homogeneous, especially in hardware, failing to motivate consumers to upgrade. Lastly, China has been experiencing a complex economic environment where exports are driving the growth and domestic spending remains lackluster.”

However, in terms of OEMs, the competition has intensified after Huawei’s decline and the market dynamics are changing rapidly. OPPO was the top OEM in Q1 2021, followed by vivo in Q2 and Q3 and now Apple in Q4.

China Smartphone Market Share, Q4 2020 vs Q4 2021

Source: Counterpoint Research Market Pulse, January 2022

China Smartphone Market Share, CY 2020 vs CY2021

China Smartphone Market Share, CY 2020 vs CY2021

Source: Counterpoint Research Market Pulse, January 2022

Commenting on Apple’s performance, Research Analyst Mengmeng Zhang said, “Apple’s stellar performance was driven by a mix of its pricing strategy and gain from Huawei’s premium base. Apple rose to first place in China right after the iPhone 13 was released (week 39) in September. Afterwards, it remained in the leading position for most of the fourth quarter. The new iPhone 13 has led the success due to a relatively lower starting price at its release in China, as well as the new camera and 5G features. Furthermore, Huawei, Apple’s main competitor in the premium market, faced declining sales due to the ongoing US sanctions.”

vivo and OPPO took the second and third spots respectively, driven by their strong offline penetration and expansive product portfolio strategy. vivo’s performance was driven by the X70 series and S series, and OPPO took off with the Reno 7 series. HONOR also started rebounding in the second half of 2021 after restoring relationships with suppliers. It captured the fourth spot in Q4 2021. Facing more severe component shortages, slower penetration in offline channels as well as competition from HONOR, Xiaomi ranked fifth during the quarter.

The year gone by also proved to be a milestone in terms of Chinese OEMs embracing advanced technology. vivo, OPPO and Xiaomi all launched self-developed chipsets to showcase their investments in semiconductors. OPPO and HONOR also launched foldable flagship models, with more mature designs and highly customised software, especially for Chinese users. Foldables bring a new form factor to the smartphone design. As foldables become more affordable, they are likely to drive some users to upgrade.

Apple’s success in the premium segment is an encouraging sign and will continue to motivate Chinese OEMs to strengthen their footprints in the segment. We expect the smartphone ASP to continue to rise in China as leading OEMs put more effort into increasing it to counter the decline in sales.


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