Apple's footprint in the Chinese smartphone market has inched slightly upward to 7 percent, fueled by strong demand for the iPhone 5s.
Its share in China grew 1 percent in the fourth quarter of 2013, from 6 percent in the previous quarter, according to a Wall Street Journal report which cited new stats from research firm, IDC. Fourth-quarter 2013 was the first full quarter following the September launch of the iPhone 5s and 5c in China.
While the 5s had proven more popular among Chinese consumers than the cheaper 5c, Android devices still make up the bulk of China's smartphone market.
Samsung retained its pole position in the market with a 19 percent share in the fourth quarter, while home-grown Lenovo Group placed second at 13 percent. Shenzhen-based Yulong Computer Telecommunications Scientific's Coolpad smartphone brand grabbed 11 percent share of the market, followed by Huawei Technologies at 10 percent. Apple was China's fifth-largest smartphone player for the quarter.
Chinese flavor of the month, Xiaomi, clocked a 6 percent share, marking a significant climb from just three years when the young company first started peddling its phones. The company said it sold 18.7 million handsets last year, a 160 increase over the previous year, and is targeting to sell 40 million this year.
With its strong growth momentum, the Chinese player is likely to emerge soon among the top five in the Chinese market, IDC's Asia-Pacific senior research manager of client devices, Melissa Chau, said in the report.
On its part, Apple is hoping its new distribution deal with China Mobile will help boost its footprint in the Chinese market. With over 760 million subscribers, the telco is the largest in the country and is the last to offer the iPhone on its network after inking an agreement with Cupertino in December 2013.
Industry analysts, however, noted that the deal was unlikely to significantly boost Apple's footprint in China, where it faced intense competition from local smartphone makers, offering lower pricepoints. They added that the iPhone maker would be unable to sustain an initial upswing in demand, following January 17 when China Mobile began offering Apple products, due to its premium price points.
China's smartphone market growth slows
Further, Gartner analysts last month warned that the Chinese smartphone market was heading toward saturation point this year, where manufacturers would likely struggle to achieve sustainable growth.
IDC numbers for China's smartphone market revealed a first-ever sequential declined in shipment in fourth-quarter 2013, after nine consecutive quarters of growth. The quarter saw unit shipments dip 4.3 percent to 90.8 million units, compared to 94.8 million in third-quarter 2013, according to the research firm. It noted that market growth was dragged down by several factors, including China Mobile's 4G TD-LTE network rollout amid a shortfall in 4G handsets, and growing adoption of phablets.
Chau said: "The world has increasingly looked to China as the powerhouse to propel the world's smartphone growth, and this is the first hiccup we've seen in an otherwise stellar growth path. There will certainly be future drivers to unlock further smartphone growth in China, as Apple demonstrated with its China Mobile tie-up in January, and the massive device migration to come of phones only supporting 2G and 3G networks to devices supporting 4G networks.
"However, we are now starting to see a market that is becoming less about capturing the low-hanging fruit of first-time smartphone users, and moving into the more laborious process of convincing existing users why they should upgrade to this year's model," the IDC analyst explained.