Apple offers iPhone 15 at rare discount in China as competition intensifies

By Josh Ye

HONG KONG (Reuters) -Apple is offering rare discounts on its iPhones in China, cutting retail prices by as much as 500 yuan ($70) amid growing competitive pressure in the world’s biggest smartphone market.

The U.S. tech giant cut prices of some iPhones by 5%, its Chinese website showed on Monday. The time-limited promotion, branded as a Lunar New Year event, will last from Jan. 18 through Jan. 21 in a lead-up to the holiday in mid-February.

Sales of Apple’s latest iPhone 15 series of handsets have been far worse than previous models in China.

Home-grown rivals such as Huawei Technologies and Xiaomi offer competitive models, while sources have said some companies and government departments have been limiting staffers’ use of Apple devices – mirroring U.S. government restrictions of Chinese apps on security grounds.

Chinese iPhone sales dropped 30% in the first week of 2024 versus the same period a year earlier, Jefferies analysts said in a client note, having fallen 3% for all of 2023. Analysts expect the competitive landscape to get tougher this year.

Apple has not cut prices for its latest iPhones in years. The cuts come after it surprised the market by not raising prices for the iPhone 15 series at its September launch.

Online shopping platforms including Pinduoduo have been slashing prices of the iPhone 15 and iPhone 15 Pro by as much as 16% since the beginning of the year.

Nicole Peng, senior vice president of market research firm Canalys, said the discounts did not come as a surprise as Apple is under pressure to boost sales globally, and especially in China, amid intensifying competition and Apple fans’ growing reluctance to upgrade.

“It is clear that Huawei is making a comeback,” Peng said, “Some Chinese consumers may return to using Huawei as driven by patriotism.”

Canalys expects Apple sales this year to stay flat worldwide while suffering a slight decline in China.

Apple did not respond to a request for comment.

(Reporting by Josh Ye; Editing by Christopher Cushing and Ros Russell)