Report: iPhone Sales Fell 20 Percent in China in Q4

Posted on February 11, 2019 by Paul Thurrott in Android, iOS, Mobile with 16 Comments

Sales of Apple’s iPhone lineup dropped an astonishing 20 percent in the most recent quarter, while Huawei sales surged 23 percent in the same time period.

The news is interesting on a number of fronts. But my key takeaway is this: The IDC report proves that Apple blaming only China for its iPhone sales drop-off is a smoke screen: Its sales in China were only slightly worse than they were worldwide.

Apple doesn’t provide unit sales figures anymore, but the firm announced in January that its quarterly revenues from iPhone had plummeted 15 percent, year-over-year. That doesn’t mean that iPhone unit sales fell 15 percent, however: Apple raised prices across the board in 2018 in order to maintain its margins, and the average selling price of the iPhone went up. So I’ve estimated that Apple sold about 63 million iPhones in that quarter, a drop of 18 percent.

Sales of Apple’s iPhones dropped by 20 percent in China. That’s worse than the worldwide number, but not much worse. And that means that Apple over-emphasized China—an easy target here in the U.S. these days—in its warning about iPhone sales, both before and during its earnings announcement.

There’s some other interesting data in the IDC report, however.

As noted, Huawei sales surged by 23 percent in the same quarter, indicating that this phone maker—which is now number two in the world ahead of Apple—has improved the quality of its products dramatically. As important, it does a much better job of serving the unique needs of the China market than does Apple, which does little to localize its offerings.

Curiously, Xiaomi, another China-based smartphone giant, had Apple-like troubles in the quarter: Its unit sales fell almost 35 percent. But there’s an unrelated reason, IDC says: Xiaomi suffered from “inventory corrections and an internal restructuring,” the firm claims. And it expects a resurgence once 5G-based products begin shipping this year.

Overall, Apple is just the fourth-best-selling smartphone maker in China, according to IDC, behind Huawei, Oppo, and Vivo. Xiaomi is in fifth place. (And IDC doesn’t even mention Samsung, which is strange.)

Note: I’ve had to base this article on other reports about the IDC report, which is not yet public.

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