​Apple hits new high in China as Xiaomi balks at phones for the West

Apple's iPhone 6 might be expensive but the large-screen device is now the favoured smartphone among Chinese consumers.

One in every four smartphones sold in urban China in the last quarter was an iPhone, new research has found.

Apple is the smartphone maker to beat in China, where the best-selling phone for the three months to January was the iPhone 6, according to new sales figures from analysts Kantar Worldpanel ComTech. This makes the iPhone more popular than the homegrown Xiaomi Redmi Note.

Local manufacturer Xiaomi made several devices in the top 10 most popular smartphones in China but none could top the iPhone 6. The 4.7-inch device accounted for 9.5 percent of all smartphones sold in urban China, compared to the Redmi Note's 8.9 percent.

The 'Greater China' region - which Apple defines as including Taiwan and Hong Kong - is Apple's second largest market after the US, and earned it $16bn in the first quarter of 2015. The company has been rapidly expanding its retail footprint in China, opening five new outlets in January in the lead up to Chinese New Year on February 19. It currently has 18 retail stores in China, including four in Shanghai and three in Beijing.

Overall in China, iOS smartphone sales climbed to 25.4 percent, up from 17.4 percent a year ago. Meanwhile, Android still dominates China's smartphone sales, but its share of the market is shrinking, down from 80.8 percent to 72.8 percent.

The new sales figures from Kantar back up a recent report by analyst firm Canalys which found that in the fourth quarter of 2014, Apple became the biggest smartphone vendor in terms of sales, beating out Xiaomi, Samsung, and Huawei in second, third, and fourth places respectively.

While Apple has clawed back the top spot in China, Xiaomi currently has no plans to encroach into Apple's smartphone territory in Europe and the US. The Chinese company recently announced plans to start selling some of its products online in the US and at this week's MWC trade show confirmed it will open a similar store for Europe, but it will only be selling its headphones and other peripherals in those markets.

Apple's gains in Europe over the period were more modest. Across the big five European markets - including Great Britain, France, Spain, Germany, and Italy - Apple's share of sales increased 3.2 percentage points to 21.9 percent while Android slipped 2.3 percentage points to 67.2 percent. Windows Phone, meanwhile, gained 0.2 percentage points to 9.6 percent.

For Apple, the standout market was Great Britain, where its share of sales climbed 11.4 percent to 40.1 percent, mostly at the expense of Android devices, which saw their share of sales decline 7.7 percentage points to 51.5 percent. Windows Phone share dropped 1.7 percentage points to 7.4 percent.

"Great Britain was once again the market that recorded the sharpest drop in Android share," said Dominic Sunnebo, business unit director at Kantar Worldpanel ComTech Europe. "However, a more stable performance by Samsung was able to hold share quarter-on-quarter and an improved performance by Motorola and HTC helped overall Android sales."

Sunnebo noted that iPhone 6 accounted for 17.6 percent of sales, with Samsung's Galaxy S5 trailing it in second with eight percent. The iPhone 6 was the top selling device in France, Germany, Italy, and Japan.

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