Consumer Electronics

Apple's Biggest Opportunity? China's 1 Billion People Online

By most accounts, about 290 million people are online in the United States, either via broadband to the home or wireless connections. They have helped make America the largest revenue source geographically for Apple Inc. (NASDAQ: AAPL). However, Apple CEO Tim Cook has said more than once that the company’s largest opportunity lies in China. The government there helped confirm that opinion as it announced that just shy of 1 billion people were online as of the end of 2020.

The government agency China Internet Network Information Center has released its 47th Statistical Report on the Development of China’s Internet Network. According to the study, “as of December 2020, China’s Internet users reached 989 million, an increase of 85.4 million from March 2020, and the Internet penetration rate reached 70.4%.” At the current rate, China’s online population may have reached a billion at the end of last month.

Of Apple’s $111.4 billion in revenue in the final quarter of 2020, $46.4 billion came from what it calls the Americas, which includes North and South America. A total of $21.3 billion came from Greater China. Americas revenue rose 12% over the same period a year ago. Revenue from China was up 57%. The Chinese market is not only larger, but it is also growing faster.

Apple has two challenges to improving its sales in China. The first is that the country’s residents have lower incomes on average than people in the United States. The U.S. median personal income is $35,600. Yet, the United States does not constitute all the Americas region. The median personal income in Brazil is $8,000. In Mexico, it is $6,000. In China, the comparable figure is just $5,000.

Apple’s other challenge is the large smartphone companies that have the country as their home base. These include Huawei, Xiaomi and Oppo. While they have a home-field advantage, Apple has picked up market share in China nevertheless.

Note that Apple does not have to own as much of the Chinese market as it does its home market. China’s online population has grown to over three times the count in the United States. China can be its fastest-growing market in the world if Apple is even modestly successful in picking up share.