We may have underestimated Apple Inc.'s (NASDAQ:AAPL) progress in China. The company has been crowned as the most desired smartphone brand in China, as well as in other emerging markets including India, Brazil, Vietnam and Nigeria, bypassing Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd. (KRX:005930), Nokia Corporation (NYSE:NOK), and Chinese brands like Huawei and HTC Corp. (TPE:2498).
The Cupertino, Calif., company has been making slow but steady progress in China, the biggest smartphone market in the world. It managed to garner 7 percent in the last quarter of 2013, up from 6 percent a year before. With the launch of the partnership with China Mobile Ltd. (NYSE:CHL) in January, many expect Apple to continue to climb up the ranks in China, but it may happen faster, if desirability is any indication.
According to a study by Upstream and Ovum, 42 percent of buyers in China would like to purchase their next mobile device from Apple, despite the myriad of smartphone offerings from Samsung, HTC, LG or Sony that are cheaper than Apple’s iPhone. Falling to second place, Samsung garnered 32 percent of the votes in China, with Huawei, Nokia and HTC collecting 9 percent, 4 percent and 4 percent, respectively, Daze Info reported on Thursday.
To maintain this edge, however, Apple will need to trade on more than just their reputation. When asked for their reasons for purchasing a certain brand, 46 percent of Chinese buyers said they are most attracted to the functionality of a certain brand’s devices, and only 21 percent said it was the brand name they aspire to.
Apple’s advantage is not as apparent elsewhere. Upstream surveyed a total of 4,504 respondents in the five emerging markets and found that 32 percent of all respondents want to purchase their next device from Apple, while 29 percent chose Samsung. Nokia, HTC and BlackBerry received 13 percent, 5 percent and 4 percent of the votes.
Of course, desirability does not always translate into sales. While Apple now theoretically has access to China Mobile’s 760 million subscribers, in reality only about 100 million Chinese can afford to buy an iPhone and many of them may already have iPhones through China’s other mobile operators, China Unicom Limited (NYSE:CHU) and China Telecom Corporation Limited (NYSE:CHA). Estimates of Apple’s China Mobile sales in 2014 have ranged widely, from as low as 5 million to as high as 25 million.