It’s a long way from the report of the one lonely guy outside an Apple store in Shanghai to Apple Inc.’s (NASDAQ: AAPL) press release this morning claiming that the weekend launch of the iPhone 5 in China drew more than 2 million buyers. That sounds like a big win, especially when Apple CEO Tim Cook says:
Customer response to iPhone 5 in China has been incredible, setting a new record with the best first weekend sales ever in China. China is a very important market for us and customers there cannot wait to get their hands on Apple products.
Cook, of course, is right about the importance of China to Apple. But the company still does not have a sales deal with China Mobile Ltd. (NYSE: CHL), the country’s largest wireless carrier. Apple has agreements with both China Unicom (Hong Kong) Ltd. (NYSE: CHU) and China Telecom Corp. Ltd. (NYSE: CHA), but the two combined claim only half as many as China Mobile’s 700 million plus subscribers.
And China, also of course, remains the biggest opportunity in the world, and Apple — and every other handset maker — must do well here. Of the country’s 1.3 billion people, about 1.1 billion are already mobile phone users. At the end of September, Apple was the sixth-ranked seller in China, behind leaders Samsung and Lenovo.
So while 2 million iPhones during the debut weekend may be Apple’s best ever, the company is going to have to do a lot better to move up the sales rankings in China. Much, much better.