Apple accelerates launch of new products in China

Apple products are hitting the Chinese market faster than they used to, with the company's latest version of its MacBook Air scheduled to be released in the country this month.

Chinese consumers once had to endure a long wait before Apple's newest products officially arrived in the country. In the case of the iPhone, more than two years passed between Apple's launch of the iconic smartphone and the start of official shipments to China in late 2009.

But this year, Apple launched the iPhone 4 and the iPad in China less than six months after their U.S. release. Apple now says it plans on releasing its new MacBook Air laptop in China mid-November, about a month after its launch in the U.S.

By releasing the company's products faster to the Chinese market, analysts say Apple is drawing consumers away from the country's grey market, where local vendors will first buy the product overseas only to bring it over to China to sell.

But the company has a way to go before taking a sizeable share in certain areas of China's tech market. For smartphones, the company claims a 5.9 percent market share, according to Beijing-based research firm Analysys International.

In China's PC market, Apple's share is even smaller, at 0.7 percent, according to Simon Ye, an analyst at research company Gartner.

"Apple represents a very small niche market," he said, adding that the company's notebook computers are too expensive for the average Chinese consumer. Apple's new MacBook Air will cost 7998 yuan (US$1,206) in China.

Many Chinese users are also turned off by how Apple's iOS products rely on the company's App Store or iTunes to buy software or media, Ye added.

"A lot of Chinese consumers are in the habit of acquiring free software for the computers," he said. "Only a small number of people who have the buying power and have a liking for Apple's products will be interested in this new notebook."

But the Apple brand is becoming more popular in China, which will only encourage more sales, analysts say. Much of this has been driven by the iPhone 4, which was officially launched in China in September. The device continues to sell out in some stores, even as Apple says it is bringing in more stock.

At the same time, Apple has been working to expand its presence in the country. The company now has a total of four Apple stores in the country, two of which opened in September. Last month, Apple also launched a new online store in China.

As more people in China buy the iPhone 4 or the iPad, they will naturally want to consider buying other Apple products like the MacBook Air, said Liu Liang, an analyst with consulting group iResearch.

"Apple's influence is growing in China," he said. "The iPhone has caused other people to think about trying other Apple products."

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