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Huawei Just Gave Tim Cook a New Headache in China

Tim Cook would like you to think everything is going swimmingly for Apple in China.

A highlight reel of the Apple CEO’s recent trip to the country, posted to his Weibo account, showed him being papped by fans at the opening of a new store in Shanghai’s Jing’an district, taking selfies on an iPhone with celebrity models, and casually strolling the historic Bund.

“Every time I am in China, I can feel the unique charm here again. Thank you very much for the warm reception!” Cook wrote in the social media post.

Here’s the thing. The Apple chief actually had a major dilemma facing him in China at the time he posted the video last month: iPhone sales were down by an alarming 24% in the first six weeks of the year, per data from Counterpoint Research.

And despite the charm offensive from Cook, there’s a risk that downward spiral is about to get a whole lot worse.

On Thursday, Huawei released a new series of smartphones called the Pura 70. They come fitted with an advanced new camera system that looks similar to the trio of lenses on the back of the iPhone Pro models, and starts at $760.

Huawei's new Pura70 phone

Huawei’s new Pura70 phone has three cameras, just like the iPhone Pro.

CFOTO/Future Publishing/Getty Images

Critically, the new phones give Huawei a fresh opportunity to take a bigger bite out of Apple’s share of the China smartphone market. It’s already won over some consumers since launching the Mate 60 Pro series last year.

The Mate 60 raised some fears in the US last year after the discovery that they were being powered by advanced chips that Washington had sought to prevent China obtaining by imposing tight export controls.

Those chips, made domestically, helped Huawei make huge gains in China by enabling features that rival those seen in iPhones. They’re now believed to be in the new Pura 70 devices too, per Reuters, which spoke to a customer who tested their network speed.

A customer tries out Huawei Mate 60 smartphone at a Huawei flagship store on September 4, 2023 in Shanghai, China.

The Huawei Mate 60 rivals the latest iPhone.

Wang Gang/Getty Images

Counterpoint estimated a 64% surge in smartphone sales for Huawei in the first six weeks of the year. The Pura 70 could continue that momentum. Ivan Lam, senior analyst at Counterpoint, told Reuters he thinks Huawei could almost double phone shipments this year to 60 million units.

This is not the sort of thing Apple wants to hear, of course.

China has been its most important international market for several years, but that’s under threat from the rise of domestic rivals that can entice Chinese consumers with devices that look and feel nearly identical to iPhones.

Apple has already shown weakness in the face of domestic competition in China. Net sales in the Greater China region were $20.8 billion in the final three months of last year, down from $23.9 billion in the same period of 2022.

Wedbush analysts wrote last week that Apple is “navigating one of the more difficult China demand environments we have seen the last five years.” They expect another decline in iPhone sales in the region in Apple’s quarterly earnings on May 2.

Cook might be putting on a brave face, but iPhone sales in China may keep sliding if Huawei has its way.

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