Apple's China dilemma: market share or cachet?

Thu Jan 24, 2013 5:43pm EST
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By Lee Chyen Yee

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Apple Inc's third straight disappointing quarter signals an urgent need for the global technology leader to drum up new revenue - and China may provide the answer.

Now more than ever, analysts say, Apple needs to get it right in the world's most populous country, where it ranks only sixth in annual smartphone sales and Samsung Electronics remains the runaway leader.

Apple's best plan of attack remains securing a deal with the country's top mobile carrier by far, China Mobile Ltd. It also needs to push the development of more localized apps and extend installment financing to bring its pricey smartphones within the reach of an urban populace with an average annual income of just $3,500.

But it should resist the temptation to just put out a cheaper iPhone, some analysts say. Introducing a long-rumored lower-cost version of the gadget could backfire by diluting Apple's premium brand - one of its most valuable assets.

"If you think of Apple, it's like a bright star in the galaxy, shining so brightly and everyone is looking at it. But it might have dimmed a bit as other stars such as Samsung have popped up," said TZ Wong, an analyst at research firm IDC.

"I don't think it's in Apple's interest to further dim its star power by stepping into the low-end segment."

With Apple's product pipeline guarded with the same zeal accorded state secrets, some analysts are focusing instead on what the world's largest technology company needs to do to finally become a major player in the world's No. 2 economy.

While iPhone sales leapt 60 percent last quarter, investors worry that, in the longer term, the company may be pricing itself out of a golden opportunity while Samsung and local rivals from Huawei Technologies Co Ltd to ZTE blanket the market with cheaper phones that rival the iPhone in quality and usability.   Continued...

A man walks in front of a company logo outside an Apple store in downtown Shanghai January 24, 2013. REUTERS/Aly Song