During the titanic grapple for pole position in the global smartphone market, Apple and Samsung have each been flooding shelves with their latest all-dancing gadgetry. So far it is the South Koreans, Samsung, who have enjoyed the lion's share of the lucrative trade. One reason for their topping the sales charts has been the fact they have signed deals in both China and Japan, Asia's largest economies, to provide the handsets for their number one mobile operators. Apple did not manage to achieve this slice of the market.
It was not for the want of trying by Apple. The sales teams in charge of promoting the successful iPhone just couldn't influence China Mobile, or their Japanese counterparts, NTT Docomo. Between them these carriers can boast over 821 million customers – a phenomenal pool of potential customers.
Things might be set to change. NTT Docomo began to offer the iPhone to their customer base last September. The Chief Executive Officer of the Californian-based corporation, Tim Cook, has been engaged in some pretty extensive 'shuttle diplomacy' between the US west coast and China. It looks as if his hard graft may be about to pay dividends. iPhones are not compatible with China Mobile's own 3G standard. However, they do work with the long term evolution technology the operator plans using for 4G. The latter is in the pipeline for an early 2014 roll-out.
Apple's final breakthroughs in the Japanese and Chinese mobile operator lines is far from coincidental. They have long-dominated the US and European domestic markets, and because of this neither China Mobile or NTT Docomo have felt obliged to make any concessions to the iPhone. But much smaller rivals, such as SoftBank and China Unicorn, have already signed deals with Apple, capitalizing on the ever-popular iPhone brand in order to attract customers from under Samsung's nose.
So how is the longer-term picture panning out? China Mobile can still boast an impressive 62% of China's cellphone market. But that marks a 10% points drop in the past five years. NTT Docomo have endured a similar decline in popularity. Although the latter was an early champion of mobile internet technology, they have been steadily losing customers to their scrappier rivals.
It is still too early to predict how the overall situation will look several months from now, but it is fair to say that in the far eastern marketplace, Apple are back up and fighting after spending a while on the canvas. Samsung, despite their earlier runaway success, now find themselves back-pedaling.