Could Apple’s China Love Affair Be Over?

After the first quarter of 2012, it had seemed certain that Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) would lord over the booming China smartphone market for quite a while, even as rival Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) struggled to recover from its run-in with government authorities in the country. The tables have turned already. Google’s Android operating system accompanied 81 percent of smartphone shipments in China during the second quarter of the year, according to a new report by Canalys. Apple saw its iPhone shipments more than double year over year, but they were down 37 percent compared with the first quarter of the year.

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Samsung was the top smartphone vendor with a 17 percent share, followed by ZTE, Lenovo, and Huawei. Apple dropped to the fifth place.

Canalys analyst Chris Jones told CNET that Apple’s fall could be attributed to the fact that it has to compete in a market where it’s not only the most expensive brand, but also faces a flourishing gray market. In addition, the change in seasonality for  iPhone product debuts also affected sales.

“It used to be a June launch and then it would roll around the world. That changed last year when it got introduced in October,” Jones said, referring to the release of the iPhone 4S last year. “It came there [to China] in Q1 and was a big initial volume as people rushed out to buy it. Typically, volumes do drop sequentially in the quarter and there was the fairly typical slowdown after the initial rush.”

China accounted for 27 percent of global smartphone shipments overall in the quarter, compared with 16 percent for the U.S. Android passed 100 million quarterly worldwide smartphone shipments for the first time, according to the report. Samsung also ranked as the No. 1 smartphone manufacturer globally with a 31 percent share of the market, with Apple and Nokia (NYSE:NOK) taking the next two spots.

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