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Apple's iPhone China shipments in February look even worse than estimated

Aaron Mok   

Apple's iPhone China shipments in February look even worse than estimated
  • Apple's iPhone shipments in China have fallen again, government data show.
  • Apple shipped roughly 2.4 million smartphones in February — a 33% drop from 2023, per Bloomberg.

The latest iPhone data out of China imply Apple's still having a tough time in one of its biggest markets.

The tech giant shipped around 2.4 million smartphones in February in the country, according to Bloomberg. That's a 33% drop from the same month in 2023, Bloomberg said, citing data from the China Academy of Information and Communications Technology, a government body.

And while it's not as bad as January — when Apple shipped an estimated 5.5 million units there, or roughly 39% fewer phones year on year, according to Bloomberg — it still looks worse than a major report suggested recently.

Counterpoint Research, in its report released in early March, estimated that iPhone sales in China had dropped by 24% in the first six weeks of the year. That decline, at a slower pace than China's more recent data show, sparked concern at the time among investors about Apple's stability in the country, weighing on shares. The stock slipped a little on Tuesday; it's fallen more than 11% in 2024.

"This has been a very difficult period for Apple in China," Dan Ives, a technology analyst at Wedbush Securities, wrote in a recent note.

One of Apple's issues is stiff competition from Huawei, a local telecom giant, which has dethroned the iPhone as the No. 1 smartphone in the country, according to Counterpoint. The Chinese government has also banned iPhones from some government agencies and companies amid US-China tech and trade tensions, and an economic slowdown could be pushing consumers to spend less.

Nicole Peng, an analyst at Canalys, told Bloomberg that an excess inventory of iPhones shipped to China in the last quarter of 2024 could also be to blame.

But today's news is "a sign of a slowing trend for the upcoming months for Apple in China, especially when the Chinese peers are driving very aggressively the AI smartphone messages," Peng said.

Apple has already been having a tough time in the country. In its latest quarterly earnings for the three months through December 2023, Greater China sales dropped to $20.8 billion — a 13% year-over-year decline.

That's on top of a broader selection of challenges in 2024, including a nearly $2 billion fine from the EU, a DOJ antitrust lawsuit, struggles with rapidly advancing its AI technology, and the decision to end its self-driving car project.

Now, Apple's leaders appear to be trying to rebuild bridges in the country. CEO Tim Cook has been in China this month to visit Apple's newest store in Shanghai and attend the high-profile China Development Forum in Beijing, which aims to strengthen ties between the CCP and the rest of the world.

"The timing of this trip was important," Ives wrote in his note. "In essence, Apple needs China, and China needs Apple."

Apple didn't immediately respond to a request for comment from Business Insider before publication.