Apple tops Chinese smartphone market for the first time

The popularity of the iPhone 6 helped Apple beat out Xiaomi to become number one in China, according to a market researcher

Apple beat out domestic and foreign competitors to become the top phone vendor in China in the final quarter of 2014 - the first time it's led the Chinese market, according to Canalys, a company that tracks global smartphone sales.

The Cupertino company beat out Xiaomi, which has recently gained international recognition for its low-cost Android handsets, Samsung and Huawei, which respectively rounded out the top four vendors in the country during the quarter.

Despite costing twice as much as comparable phones from other companies, the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus have proved immensely popular with Chinese consumers since their launch on October 17, Canalys said on Tuesday.

In part, the sales are the result of wider availability of the new phones, which simultaneously launched at all three of China's mobile carriers with support for both 4G standards used in China: TDD and FDD LTE.

Apple also clamped down on availability of so-called "grey market" imports from Hong Kong, which reached China in the weeks before the phone officially went on sale. Some phones were being offered for over $2,000 -- an early indication of the iPhone's cachet and demand for the phone in China.

The larger screen also appealed to Chinese consumers, said Chris Jones, a Canalys analyst based in Silicon Valley.

"There is a huge middle class in China and this is a desirable device, despite the high price," he said. "People are replacing their phones on a regular basis and they are not loyal to a particular brand. Apple has been able to win back some customers."

The company said it would provide an estimate of units sold next week, after Apple and some of its competitors make their quarterly earnings announcements. Apple is due to release sales details later Tuesday and Samsung will do the same on Friday.

Martyn Williams covers mobile telecoms, Silicon Valley and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Martyn on Twitter at @martyn_williams. Martyn's e-mail address is martyn_williams@idg.com

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