In a telling sign of the times, Apple announced Wednesday that China will be among the first wave of markets to get its new iPhone 6s smartphones on September 25.
That’s a change from last year — the initial iPhone 6 launch on September 19, 2014 included Hong Kong, but not mainland China. Chinese consumers were forced to wait until October 17 to get their hands on the new phones.
Apple also said that transit information in its Maps app will be available in more than 300 cities in China, including Beijing, Chengdu, and Shanghai.
Meanwhile, the country’s three major carriers — China Mobile, China Telecom, and China Unicom — are expected to continue to support iPhones (now including the 6s) on their 4G/LTE networks.
In July, China’s 4G users passed 250 million (more than double the number of U.S. subscribers) on a total mobile user base of nearly 1.3 billion. Apple chief executive Tim Cook said that China saw 75 percent year-on-year smartphone growth, compared with -4 percent for the rest of the industry.
Other first-wave launch markets for the iPhone 6s in Asia include Japan, Hong Kong, and Singapore (unchanged from last year). Notably, India — expected to be the second-largest smartphone market behind China by 2017 — is still missing from the line-up.
With both mainland China and Hong Kong being in the first wave of the iPhone 6s launch, the grey market will be much weaker than before.
— Richard Lai (@richardlai) September 9, 2015
Apple also offered a nod to China during the iPhone keynote when it included the country’s most popular mobile messaging app, WeChat, in a demonstration of how its new 3D Touch display technology works, showing how a user could launch straight into WeChat’s “iSight Camera” mode from the iPhone 6s home screen.
“Showing WeChat yet again in their keynote just further reflects the importance of China to the company,” Bryan Ma, an Asia-based technology industry analyst at IDC, told VentureBeat.
WeChat’s Apple Watch app was already included in demos by Apple in March.
“They have to appeal to their user base after all, and that user base is increasingly growing in China where the online ecosystem is a world of its own,” Ma said.
However, he suggested that the Apple TV may still be naturally U.S.-centric, and therefore not find as strong traction in China.
WeChat and Weibo on new iPhone home screens. China! pic.twitter.com/Q4lK3Upe2T
— Matthew Panzarino (@panzer) September 9, 2015
As to the 6s’ performance in neighbouring market Japan, Tokyo-based industry analyst Serkan Toto told VentureBeat that he expects the new devices to sell “like hot cakes, just like everywhere else.”