Apple’s iPhone 13 may not have many new features but its lower price tag could shake China’s mobile market

Apple’s cheaper iPhone 13 series will likely take further market share away from domestic tech giant Huawei Technologies Co and other local brands despite it being the weakest upgrade ever of the iconic handset, analysts said.

The Cupertino-based tech company on Tuesday launched a new line of iPhones – the iPhone 13, iPhone 13 mini, iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro Max – at a media event dubbed California Streaming. Although the new iPhones came with few surprises, the lower price tag has raised eyebrows in China, the world’s second-largest economy.

Pricing for the new models in China starts at 5,199 yuan (US$807) for the iPhone 13 Mini, 5,999 yuan (US$931) for the iPhone 13 and 7,999 yuan (US$1,241) for the iPhone 13 Pro, about 300 to 800 yuan cheaper than the corresponding iPhone 12s, depending on the exact model.

Analysts said that the cheaper iPhones will be another blow for Huawei, which has struggled under the weight of US trade sanctions that have cut off its access to high-end chips. Without naming Huawei, Wang Xi, a manager at industry research firm IDC in China, wrote in a report that iPhones “will have an even clearer advantage in the premium smartphone market with the iPhone 13’s approach to pricing, displays and storage”.

The latest iPhone pricing came as a surprise to many industry watchers as industry-leading chip maker Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) recently increased its prices. Moreover, smartphones with more storage and higher capacity, typically come with a higher price tag in China.

Discussion about the new iPhone 13 raged on Chinese social media, with the hashtag #iPhone13Price being viewed more than 1 billion times in a few hours, reflecting the huge following Apple still has in the country despite growing trade tensions between China and the US.

Reaction was mixed, with some netizens marvelling at the cheaper price tag while others dismissed the latest iPhone iteration as the weakest ever. “This iPhone 13 line comes with probably the fewest selling points than all the previous upgrades,” a Weibo commentator wrote.

Some commentators were upset by the price cut. “I whipped out 6,388 yuan for an iPhone 12 not too long ago. Now the same model costs only 5,999,” another netizen wrote on Weibo.

Meanwhile, Huawei is continuing to lose ground in China. Apple’s share of smartphone shipments in China rose to 43 per cent in the second quarter of 2021, according to industry research firm Canalys, from a share of 28 per cent in the same period a year ago, while Huawei’s share dropped to 26 per cent from 57 per cent over the same period.

“Huawei had a significant lead. But just as its shipments were coming down, Apple’s shipments immediately rose during the fourth quarter of last year,” said Nicole Peng, vice-president of mobility at Canalys.

The iPhone 13 Pro Max is the top-of-the-line offering from Apple and comes with a faster A15 Bionic chip, three new cameras, and a faster display with up to a 120Hz ProMotion high refresh rate and maximum brightness reaching 1,000 nits.

Although macro factors such as a global chip shortage have put pressure on phonemakers to raise prices, Ivan Lam, senior analyst at Counterpoint Research, said Apple’s pricing strategy has changed since late last year as it focuses more on driving volume.

“As 5G phones become the norm, Apple needs aggressive pricing to occupy the 5G phone market,” Lam said.

He added that the new key features of the iPhone 13 – a high refresh rate display and 5G network support for all models – would allow Apple to neutralise many of the advantages that Chinese smartphone makers possess.

“A high refresh rate display can be found in many flagship Android phones in China,” Lam said, “Apple is catching up on that.”