Apple is doing better in China these days than in the past, though many problems, as well as opportunities, loom, according to Yan Feng, president of the
Beijing Macintosh User Group and Apple User Groups Regional Liaison for Asia (except Japan).
He estimates that Apple has around a 2 percent marketshare in China. Not surprisingly, many of the users are designers and those who work in the publishing and advertising industries.
“But Macs are also used by die-hard Mac addicts, both local and expatriot,” Feng told MacCentral. “There is no ‘vacuum’ of Mac addicts.”
Unfortunately, the average citizen can’t afford Macs, which accounts for the proliferation of Windows systems, he added. Apple hardware remains the property of the wealthy and the Mac “diehards,” Feng said.
But though price is certainly a factor here, citizens don’t want “any old El Cheapo computer,” Feng said. “Especially with upmarket folks, they look for looks, as well,” he added. “Some love how the Mac looks and would gladly buy one were it not for the price.”
Perhaps the situation will improve as China is becoming a “capitalist madhouse” with new companies established every day, Feng said.
“It is indifferent, at least as seen in the capital, as any other nation in the West,” he added. “FDI [foreign direct investment] is pouring in like mad, the establishment of new companies is all too mundane, and people are spending like crazy. There are some reforms in the state-owned enterprises, and much work is going ahead after we got into the World Trade Organization. And, of course, Beijing itself is immersed in much work to gear up for Beijing 2008 — the Olympics. And Shanghai’s getting the 2010 World Exhibition.”
Apple is improving, at least slightly, its ability to reach out to new users, Feng said. For instance, the company is opening more shops in China.
“We have AppleCentres, Apple Experience Centres and Apple Corners (smaller Apple outlets),” Feng said. “Sadly, there’s no ‘Switch’ campaign around here, or not one big enough to warrant gravity or attention.”
Still, Apple has a relatively large presence compared to a few years ago. Judging by the number of Apple authorized retailers, there are such stores in 39 cities — from Beijing to Shenzhen and from Urumqi to Harbin. There are the Apple Experience Centres in Beijing and Guangzhou, Apple Centres in Beijing, Jinan, Shanghai, Nanjing, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Fuzhou and Hangzhou. And there are Apple Corners in 13 cities. Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan can also be included.
Unfortunately, support from Apple is still “terse” in some areas, though there is now a Tech Support forum in Chinese on Apple China’s Web site. The multi-lingual environment of Mac OS X has been very well received, Feng said. System updates are now internationally applicable, and a Chinese version debuts simultaneously with Western versions.
“I have heard a few minor reports of a few apps not working well with the Chinese environment, and this and that, but the overwhelming majority thinks it’s a good thing,” Feng said.
Of course, China poses a major sales opportunity for all computer companies. Feng thinks that for Apple to make headway it needs to do some studies on how the average citizen in the street thinks. Just translating a Western ad into Chinese isn’t sufficient.
“Others study the Chinese thought (we’re talking Confuscianist thoughts and their ilk here), apply it to their marketing, and boom — sometimes it just works,” he explains. “Apple should also do a Chinese version of Switch — it’ll tell the tale — and provide lower prices. People will finally see that the Mac, an increasingly cheap alternative, is better; to quote a photo from an Apple ad spot in the US, ‘the grass is indeed greener.’ And, of course, open up more stores, and advertise like crazy. Spend your yuans smart in this capitalist madhouse, and you will reap your awards.”
The Beijing Mac User Group is doing well, Feng said. They recently had their first real general meeting with a well-planned election. Their first Central Executives Committee (executives board) has been constituted and directions for the user group established.