Apple set for bigger bite of China mobile market with iOS 7

American tech giant strengthens integration with mainland online services as it introduces support for Tencent Weibo on new iOS 7 system

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 11 June, 2013, 6:28pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 12 June, 2013, 2:31am

Apple has boosted its appeal in China by unveiling support for Tencent Weibo, the microblogging service of the nation's largest internet company, on the updated mobile operating system for iPhones and iPads - iOS 7.

The world's largest technology company also announced plans to integrate Siri, its intelligent voice-command program, on new car models next year.

That development could see Apple further expand its business on the mainland, the world's biggest car market. China represents Apple's second-largest market after the United States.

"I think Chinese consumers will like iOS 7," Ben Bajarin, the director of consumer technology research at market intelligence firm Creative Strategies. "Apple's commitment to focus on China-specific innovations in software and services will continue to help drive stickiness [to its mobile platform]."

At the opening of Apple's 24th annual Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco, chief executive Tim Cook declared the new iOS 7 platform as "the biggest change in iOS since the introduction of the iPhone" in June 2007. Apple has completely redesigned the system's user interface to make the display of either the iPhone, iPad or iPod touch appear bigger.

Jonathan Ive, Apple's senior vice-president of design, said iOS 7, which will be available as a free update this autumn, showed the firm's resolve in "bringing order to complexity" in its mobile operating system. The hundreds of improved features on iOS 7 include Control Centre, Multitasking, AirDrop, Siri and iTunes Radio, a free internet radio service.

For users in China, the most significant announcements were support for Tencent Weibo, the addition of a Chinese-English bilingual dictionary, and improved Chinese-language input, including handwriting recognition for multiple Chinese characters.

China-specific improvements were started by Apple on iOS 6, launched in June last year. It initiated support for Sina Weibo, Baidu, Youku and Tudou. Online video sites Youku and Tudou merged operations in August.

Tencent Weibo had 540 million registered users at the end of last year, while Sina Weibo had 503 million in the same period. Global service Twitter had 554 million registered users by April.

Eddy Cue, Apple's senior vice-president for internet software and services, said the updated Siri program would play a big part in bringing iOS to the smart dashboards of new cars next year.

Included in this initiative are Mercedes-Benz, Ferrari, Jaguar, Honda's Acura, Nissan's Infiniti, General Motors' Chevrolet, Kia, Hyundai and Volvo, owned by China's Zhejiang Geely Holding.

But Bryan Wang, manager for China at Forrester Research, said: "Most Chinese carmakers are not ready for iOS 7 yet. It will still need a couple of years before Apple gains ground from this development."