A pair of reports out this morning highlight Apple's ongoing struggles in India and China ahead of the company's Q2 2018 earnings results coming tomorrow, May 1. Within India, Apple has been dethroned as the country's top selling high-end smartphone maker in the January-March period, losing out to Samsung.
Specifically looking at India's "premium price segment" (devices priced above 30,000 rupees, or $452), Apple's market share was at 18 percent in the first calendar quarter of 2018, compared to 45 percent in the year-ago quarter. Apple not only lost out to Samsung for the quarter (50 percent), but also to OnePlus (25 percent), according to numbers reported by Counterpoint Research (via Nikkei).
Apple has faced ongoing struggles over iPhone prices in India, with the Indian government raising the custom duty on imported mobile phones twice in under two months in an effort to get smartphone makers to build products locally. While Apple has set up an iPhone SE assembly in India, and is looking into doing the same for the iPhone 6s, the continued tax hikes have greatly hindered its expansion in the country.
Samsung, on the other hand, has been manufacturing its smartphones locally in India for almost ten years, and got a boost in Q1 thanks to interest in the Galaxy S9, S9 Plus, and A8 Plus.
"Apple is likely to continue facing trouble in India in the near to mid-term, until it has a relatively cheaper product," said Neil Shah, research director at Counterpoint.
Apple will have to partner with a local manufacturing company to bring down the price of its devices, Shah said. "It will have to introduce devices in the 50,000 rupees to 60,000 rupees range to lure Indian customers."
The fear of Apple's "excessive prices" also extends to China, where researchers forecast Apple will see continued weakness during its second fiscal quarter results this week (via Business Insider). UBS analysts Steven Milunovich and Benjamin Wilson predict iPhone sales to decline to as low as 47 million in fiscal 2018, dropping from a peak of 71 million during a "stellar" year of sales for the iPhone 6s in 2015. In 2015 Apple owned a 54 percent share of the Chinese smartphone market, which is predicted to decline to 37 percent this year.
Similar to India, Apple's problem in China is that local brands offer far cheaper alternatives for customers to purchase. Apple is also lacking distributors and promoters outside China's "Tier 1" and "Tier 2" cities (Shanghai or Beijing), where "local brands make extensive use of promoters to influence consumer decisions," Milunovich explained. He continued: "Oppo, Vivo, and Huawei have over 100,000 promoters each versus Apple with only 4,000."
“We think it’s doubtful China returns to its 2015 peak as local brands have caught up and upgrade cycles are lengthening; we expect a flattish market, give or take a few points of growth depending on the overall market and product cycle,” the UBS team told clients recently. “At the peak in 2015, we believe Apple likely had 40-50% share with Tier 1 and 2 consumers; we think that figure is closer to 20-30% today.”
Analysts are now waiting for a "supercycle" of user upgrades, meaning that a vast majority of Chinese iPhone owners would finally ditch their old models for a new update because of hardware additions that convince them it's time for the switch. As GBH Insights analyst Daniel Ives pointed out, this expected supercycle "keeps not happening" because users are holding onto their iPhones for longer periods of time, and also because recent iPhone generations lack compelling enough reasons to pay for the new version.
Now, researchers are looking toward the 2018 trio of iPhones to potentially become the catalyst for the supercycle. "Patience is wearing thin among investors on this elusive upgrade cycle with China playing a major role in the success or failure Apple will see over the coming year around this key product upgrade cycle," Ives said.