How the iPhone Lost its Luxury Social Status in China

Today, owning a Chinese-made smartphone is on an equal footing to owning an iPhone.

On October 13, Apple debuted its annual iPhone update with its latest model, the iPhone 12. Though delayed, the product release was much anticipated, especially as China is Apple’s second-largest market by revenue. However, to fans dismay, the brand’s infamous Apple Event livestream was made unavailable at the eleventh hour with no explanations, and ultimately the new phone received a mixed reception within the Chinese market.

Trending on Weibo, the #iPhone12 tag reached over six billion views in discussions of the new release. Many netizens were either criticizing it over its high price tag or negatively comparing it to domestic players Huawei and Xiaomi (both of whom had also released competitive phone models recently).

Apple’s iPhone used to be highly coveted because it is a foreign brand in line with China’s imported consumerism trend, and it has become a symbol of economic success with every yearly upgrade. The American smartphone maker is ranked as the second-largest in China, which has been acknowledged by the brand in its hurried reopening of all 42 stores in China during the country’s first sign of post-pandemic recovery. Recently, the brand reaped a 225-percent iPhone sales increase in China over the second quarter for its cheaper iPhone SE model while also discounting phones to spur spending during the mid-year shopping festivals and other national holidays.

But the reception of its new product launches has been diminishing over the years, and the Chinese appetite for Apple hype has been waning, which is especially true over the past two years when the American smartphone maker lacked 5G capabilities as compared to domestic brands. Also, rising US-China trade war tensions and the recent WeChat ban in America have also repelled many users against Apple as a response, driving patriotism and support for domestic brands instead.

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