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Apple has made huge strides in China despite a lackluster recent quarter in which the company dropped $800 million in middle kingdom revenue, year-over year. The company gave China its first Apple Event in Beijing, and was rewarded by selling out iPhone 5S and 5C pre-orders.

But one other big China win — landing 700-million-subscriber China Mobile as a carrier partner — might be farther off than we thought.

Despite reports that Apple landed the world’s largest mobile carrier in September, a new report suggests that a deal has not actually been consummated and won’t be until at least next year.

iphone5s-light“Our research … leads us to believe that a China Mobile agreement is more likely a 2014 event than a 2013 announcement,” Cantor Fitzgerald analyst Brian White said in a research note published this morning.

White was recently on a research trip to Taiwan and China, where he noted that increased orders with Apple suppliers indicated about a 10 percent jump in Apple sales. He also noted that the iPhone 5S has been “much more popular” than the iPhone 5C. As expected, the iPhone 5C is selling mainly to younger people and is in stock at all the Apple stores in Hong Kong and mainland China that he visited, while the iPhone 5S is backordered — especially the most popular color option, gold.

“That said, we also do not subscribe to the notion that demand for the iPhone 5C has been a huge disappointment … rather [it’s] not at the level of the iPhone 5S,” White said.

However, news that the China Mobile deal may not happen until 2014 is a blow to Apple, which has sunk has to a humiliating seventh in China smartphone sales — almost to be buried in the “Other” category — in August of this year. A deal with China Mobile could hardly have failed to stimulate an almost-immediate millions-strong rush on iPhones, which would have a massive positive impact not just on Apple’s China sales but on its overall financial results.

China is the world’s leading smartphone market, and last year Chinese consumers bought 88 million smartphones — a full third of all sales globally.


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