Apple iPhone sales in China plunged 20% in 4Q

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The China market declined 10.5% for all of last year and has now notched five consecutive quarterly contractions, reversing several years of explosive growth that catapulted it to become the world's largest market.

The smartphone users of brands like Apple is now contending with a plateauing global market after years of breakneck growth.

A separate report from another common industry source, Hong Kong-based Counterpoint, earlier this month confirmed a similar sharp fall in sales in India - another big emerging market where Apple is struggling.

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Cupertino, California-based Apple's latest iPhone models, which are mostly priced above US$1,000, face a tough challenge from Chinese-brand devices that cost about half or a third less. To compensate for the loss, Apple is trying to replace phone sales with revenue from services. Apple CEO Tim Cook has seen China as a key part of Apple's strategy.

Apple reported a 27% drop in overall sales to $13 billion in China during its December quarter. In China, iPhone sales have fallen at twice the overall decline in the smartphone market. "Apple didn't seem to change its Chinese marketing plans". The Chinese tech giant saw its shipments in the homeland increase by 23.3 percent during the most recent quarter, pushing its local market share to an impressive 29 percent. That's despite grappling with an unusually turbulent few months during which its finance chief was arrested on allegations of bank fraud, and the US marshalled its allies to try and block the company from selling next-generation networking gear. A report released by IDC on Monday showed that Apple's shipments in China fell by 19.9% in the fourth quarter, but its ranking in smartphone shipments rose from fifth to fourth. Its shipments plummeted nearly 35% because of inventory corrections and an internal restructuring, IDC said. But IDC argues blazing-fast phones won't become the standard until 2020, because the rollout of 5G networks is just getting underway.

Apple no longer breaks out detailed numbers on iPhone shipments in its quarterly results, meaning that surveys and channel checks by the likes of IDC are often the clearest indicator of shifts in sales.

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