China's importance to Apple on display at Watch launch
The importance of the Chinese market to the world's largest public company at the launch of the Apple Watch in California on Monday was clear.
Apple Watch will go on sale in nine markets on April 24, including China and Hong Kong. Previously, Chinese consumers have had to wait longer for Apple devices, including the iPhone 6 last, which was released in China a week after its launch.
China's presence was felt throughout the almost two hour long keynote presentation, which opened with a video of Apple's new concept store by Hangzhou's West Lake, which opened in February. CEO Tim Cook said that the company has 21 stores on the mainland so far with plans to open 19 more.
Greater China – which includes the mainland, Taiwan, Macau and Hong Kong – is Apple's second largest market after the US, and earned the company US$16 billion in the first quarter of 2015. China is also widely regarded as the key market for the Apple Watch, particularly the US$17,000 solid gold Edition.
"The high-end model they should call the 'China' watch as it's clearly targeted at emerging markets, aspirational consumers who are looking to spread their feathers (flaunt their individualism and wealth) with what has become the ultimate self-expressive benefit brand: Apple," luxury expert Scott Galloway of digital innovation think tank L2 told Business Insider.
A recent survey by the Hurun Research Institute found that Apple is now China's top luxury brand, ahead of such stalwarts as Louis Vuitton, Cartier and Hermes.
Beyond just bling, Apple vice president for technology Kevin Lynch also revealed that Tencent WeChat, the most popular real time messaging app in China, will be available as a third party app for the device.
WeChat "received a longer demo this morning, likely because of China’s importance to Apple’s market share growth," according to TechCrunch. Users can send messages, stickers and emoji via the app, which also displays incoming messages in real time. Other third party apps demoed during the keynote included Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
While the gold Apple Watch was much previewed, Cook's announcement of a gilded MacBook largely came as a surprise. The new MacBook, which goes on sale on April 10, will start at US$1,299. Like the launch of the gold iPhone in 2013, the introduction of a gold version is seen by many as targeting the Chinese market.
"This is all about Apple taking it to the next level," Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst with Moor Insights & Strategy, told ComputerWorld.
"HP and Dell have amped up their game, so Apple's taken another step to put some distance between them and its rivals," said Moorhead.
Apple has had great success with MacBook sales in recent months, shipping 5.5 million Macs in the fourth quarter of 2014, with sales in China up 54 per cent.
Chinese companies will also benefit from Apple's new products, JD.com, the mainland's largest online direct sales company said on Tuesday that it will offer the Apple Watch and new MacBook for sale through its website and on WeChat beginning on April 24.
"China has some of the most fervent Apple fans in the world so we are delighted that we will begin selling the Apple Watch and new Macbook on JD.com, simultaneously with the official launch in Apple Stores across the country," said Shen Haoyu, CEO of JD Mall, the company's B2C marketplace.