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Apple's iPhone continued to increase its share of the lucrative Chinese smartphone market during the three-month period ending in January, but growth rates reached a nadir not seen since 2014, according to the latest research from Kantar Worldpanel ComTech.
The research firm notes that while Apple's iOS was the most popular brand in China for the January quarter with a 25 percent marketshare, year-over-year growth rates slowed to their lowest levels since late-2014. A closer analysis of the numbers reveals consumers were likely waiting for Chinese New Year deals.
"Looking at the three months individually, January was the weakest month for Apple in China as more price-sensitive consumers might have been waiting to see what promotions Chinese New Year would bring in early February," said Carolina Milanesi, chief of research at Kantar.
Supporting the theory is Apple's worldwide marketshare, which remained relatively steady over the same period.
On a device basis, Apple owned the market with iPhone 6s, iPhone 6s Plus and iPhone 6 coming in as the top three best-selling smartphones. Second-place manufacturer Huawei took 24.3 percent of sales, while Xiaomi came in third after shedding 10.2 points year-over-year.
Overall, however, iOS is far behind Android's 73.9 percent marketshare. Google's operating system is consistently dominant in burgeoning markets, mostly thanks to a comparatively low licensing overhead that allows local OEMs to produce low-cost phones.
In January, Kantar put Apple's share of the Chinese smartphone market at 27.1 percent, with iPhone models taking the top three spots in per-device sales.
Beyond China, Apple is bracing for its first-ever iPhone sales decline since the popular smartphone launched in 2007. The company is modeling the sales contraction for the current March quarter, noting a tough compare to last year's unexpectedly high sales.
For the most recent quarter ending in December, Apple sold a record 74.8 million units and raked in $18.4 billion in profit on $75.9 billion in revenue.