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An Apple Store saleswoman holds a gold iPhone in Beijing on September 11, 2013. (Picture: SCMP)

Dual SIM slots and gold iPhones: Five ways Apple is embracing China

How Apple cracked China by following local tastes (and demands)

This article originally appeared on ABACUS

The world’s largest smartphone market has long been key to the world’s most valuable company. Since Apple opened a store in Beijing in 2008, the company has added 40 more outlets across China -- more than any other country except the United States.

There are good reasons why Apple keeps vying for Chinese customers. Despite soaring competition with local brands and some disappointing results last year, China continues to deliver for Apple. In the last quarter, the company made as much money in China as it did in all of Europe -- and the iPhone X was the most popular smartphone in the country.

Here are some of the moves that Apple has made to woo China.

Dual SIM?

For months, leaks signalled that this year’s iPhone will carry a feature exclusive to China: Dual SIM card slots. While rare in the US, most Android handsets sold in China (and some parts of Asia and Africa) have two SIM slots.

Having two SIM cards on one phone allows users to jump between two carriers, taking advantage of different cellular plans. It’s also popular with frequent business travelers wanting to avoid hefty roaming fees abroad.

Gold iPhones

An Apple Store saleswoman holds a gold iPhone in Beijing on September 11, 2013. (Picture: SCMP)
When Apple introduced an iPhone 5s in champagne gold in 2013, some fans slammed the color choice as tacky and off-brand. In China, the color was even nicknamed “tuhao gold” after a Chinese term describing newly rich people who like to flaunt their wealth
But the gold-hued model turned out to be a massive hit, selling out immediately in China and around the world. CEO Tim Cook later revealed the gold iPhone was released in part to meet Chinese taste.

“To be clear, sales for the gold iPhones in China have far, far exceeded other markets,” he told Bloomberg Businessweek.

Hey Siri, bring up Alipay

Apple has its own mobile payment service. But in China, it’s choosing to join forces with local giant Alipay. Customers can pay with the app in Apple Stores. iPhone users can even tell Siri to open the Alipay payment screen directly.


(Abacus is a unit of the South China Morning Post, which is owned by Alibaba -- a partner of Alipay owner Ant Financial.)

Apple Pay has been struggling to gain ground in China, where more than 90% of consumers paying with their smartphones use either Alipay or Tencent’s WeChat Pay -- according to the China Internet Report 2018.

Dedicated China Boss

There are only 17 executives listed on Apple’s leadership page. One of them is Isabel Ge Mahe, Apple’s first-ever managing director of Greater China -- and the only person on the list who’s dedicated to a single market. Everyone else was labeled by what they do instead of geographical areas, showing China’s exceptional importance to Apple.
Ge Mahe, a Mandarin speaker born in the northeast Chinese city of Liaoning, took up the position after a disappointing start to 2017 for Apple. Revenue in China fell 14% in the first quarter as competition with domestic rivals heated up. But the pressure eased up a little after Apple launched the iPhone X in November.

Giving in to the Government

With so much at stake in China, Apple has caved in to Beijing’s demands on many occasions. It’s been criticized for removing VPN apps from the App Store in the country -- a move that human rights activists say is helping China’s censorship efforts. It also blocks the emoji of Taiwan's flag on Apple devices where the location is set to mainland China.

Earlier this year, Apple triggered concerns yet again when it transferred Chinese iCloud data to a state-run company. Apple said it needs to abide by China’s cybersecurity law, but critics fear local courts could force Apple into divulging customer data.

Apple removes 25,000 illegal apps from China App Store after state media criticism


For more insights into China tech, sign up for our tech newsletters, subscribe to our Inside China Tech podcast, and download the comprehensive 2019 China Internet Report. Also roam China Tech City, an award-winning interactive digital map at our sister site Abacus.