Apple’s CEO Is Fighting Hard to Win This Market… And It’s Not the U.S.

This week, Tim Cook just opened Apple’s (AAPL) newest store… in China.

The tech giant is currently facing what could be one of the biggest antitrust lawsuits in history. Yet its CEO was halfway around the world taking care of business.

Cook wasn’t in China just to grace the opening of Apple’s second-largest store worldwide – and its 57th in China…

He was there to make sure Apple didn’t lose any more ground… in what recently became the company’s biggest single market for iPhones..

You see, Apple ended 2023 on a high note. It had a leading 17%-plus share of China’s smartphone market last year.

But iPhone sales in the country plunged 24% year over year (“YOY”) in just the first six weeks of 2024.

That kind of YOY decline for a massive brand like Apple – in a smartphone market that only fell by 7% from the previous year – is unheard of.

Meanwhile, Chinese tech giant Huawei saw its market share nearly double in a year to near 17%. And as Apple’s sales plunged at the beginning of this year, Huawei’s sales popped 64%.

Taken together, Huawei looks like it has already surpassed Apple as China’s largest smartphone vendor so far this year…

That’s impressive. Just a year ago, Huawei wasn’t even able to produce high-end smartphones. U.S. sanctions had prevented it from buying advanced microchips.

So this massive change likely alarmed Cook. It’s a rise he hasn’t seen since Apple first released its iPhone almost 17 years ago.

Folks, the reality is that the U.S. smartphone market suffers from a lack of competition. It’s practically an oligopoly.

Apple has an incredible 62% share of the market, while Samsung has a 17% share.

The third-largest-selling brand – with a 9% share – is owned by Chinese brand Lenovo. But in the U.S., it mostly sells Motorola-branded smartphones. Lenovo acquired the business a decade ago.

That means other brands have just a combined 12% share.

Again, Apple has a dominant position in the U.S. This is largely why the U.S. Department of Justice believes the company is violating antitrust laws.

But Apple’s U.S. dominance hasn’t helped in China. The company constantly fluctuates from first place to third place in China’s enormous smartphone market.

Apple doesn’t completely dominate there like it does in the U.S.

In China, Apple faces big and capable competition coming from all corners.

Keep in mind that many of China’s best homegrown smartphone brands – and Apple’s toughest competitors in the country – aren’t available for public consumption in the U.S.

They’re either banned outright (like Huawei) or must go through steep approvals to get cleared for domestic sale.

That ultimately means fewer choices for American consumers and less competition for Apple.

And unless the U.S., Mexico, or even India become smartphone-manufacturing powerhouses overnight, Apple can’t help but remain at the top in the U.S.

That’s why Cook would rather be in China this week. He has a big reason to be paying attention to his company’s efforts there.

Good investing,

Vic Lederman

Scroll to Top