Chinese smartphone shipments hit a heady 82 million units in the first quarter this year. This is more than three times the smartphone shipment volume in the U.S. market during the same period of time. These Canalys numbers dovetail well with Qualcomm’s regional 3G device shipment trends. Over the past year, Qualcomm has repeatedly lowered its North American device shipment estimates while hiking its estimates sharply in China and India. Smartphones are a narrower category than 3G devices, but by both counts Asia’s portion of global sales keeps rising faster than most people expected a few years ago.
Interestingly, Canalys sees Apple rebounding a bit in the ruthlessly competitive Chinese smartphone market. Apple moved from being the sixth biggest smartphone vendor to the fifth position in Q1 2013. Samsung still holds a hefty 20% to 8% lead over Apple in the Chinese smartphone market share race, but Apple’s performance is solid considering its iPhone is not yet distributed by the leading operator, the mammoth China Mobile.
If Apple is indeed inching closer to launching a budget iPhone, this summer would be the time to finally close the deal with China Mobile. The combination of a cheap new iPhone with strong China Mobile marketing to back it up could rock the Chinese smartphone market to its foundation.
China Mobile has regularly offered mid-priced devices to contract customers for free. The impact of a free iPhone offered to China Mobile’s 720 million subscribers could be formidable.