Without China, Apple’s iPhone pre-orders were probably a big disappointment

A big China jump.
A big China jump.
Image: Reuters/China Stringer Network
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Apple told the Wall Street Journal on Monday that opening weekend pre-orders for its iPhone 6s series were “on pace” to exceed the 10 million benchmark set by last year’s iPhone 6. Apple didn’t provide any other information, and didn’t put out a public press release. But because the 6s will be the first phone available for early purchase in mainland China at the same time as other markets, it is pretty clear that China is responsible for a good chunk of that 10 million.

Greater China (which includes Hong Kong and Taiwan) already accounts for about 20% of Apple’s revenue. So, very roughly, the inclusion of mainland China (which is about 40 times Hong Kong and Taiwan’s combined population) might have helped add as much as two million orders to this weekend’s pre-bookings.

Yes, we’re extrapolating here. We requested more information from Apple and will update if we hear back.

If mainland Chinese customers ordered two million phones, that would mean that pre-bookings in the rest of the world came in somewhere around the 8 million mark—less than the 10 million pre-bookings of the original iPhones 6 and 6 Plus during its first weekend on the market. Weekend pre-orders for the iPhones 5s and 5C hit 9 million in 11 countries, while the iPhone 5 hit 5 million in just nine countries.

In the past, Apple released iPhones in mainland China much later than in US and other markets, a strategy it hoped to change with the iPhones 6, but unknown regulatory issues led to a one month delay.

Even though it was a month delayed, the iPhone 6 was a hit in the Middle Kingdom, thanks to its large screen size, third-party keyboard compatibility on iOS 8, and gold exterior. Revenues from greater China skyrocketed during the device’s three quarters on the market.

Pre-orders don’t necessarily reflect device’s reception in China over the long term, says Nicole Peng, analyst at research firm Canalys.

“It will be difficult for Apple to achieve similar levels of sales that the iPhone 6 had in China with the iPhone 6S,” she tells Quartz. “Having said that, I think China joining the first wave of the pre-order market will help with the overall number in first week sales.”

This coming year will be pivotal for Apple in China. On the one hand, the country’s smartphone market is shrinking rapidly—shipments actually contracted 4% year-on-year during the quarter ending in March. An upcoming economic slowdown, coupled with a weakened currency, might make the iPhone’s off-contract starting price of 5288 yuan (about $830) seem steeper than ever. On the other, Apple’s customers tend to be wealthier than the average smartphone buyer and less price-sensitive.

An earlier version of this article had incorrectly converted the price of the iPhone 6s in China from 5,288 yuan to $649.