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China iPhone launch delay could boost sales for rivals during Chinese New Year holidays

iphone-4-vs-4sImagine just prior to the holiday season supplies of Apple’s iPhone ran dry. You’d been hoping to treat yourself to the latest 4S device, or buy one for a friend or relative, but you can’t find the smartphone anywhere. Worse still, there’s no word when they might be returning to stores. If this happened, would you instead take a look at the competition? Examine some of the Android offerings, for example? Or would you just wait until Apple’s device returned to stores, even though it could be a couple of weeks before it happens, or even a month?

As a Bloomberg report points out, this is the dilemma facing shoppers in China just now after Apple’s launch of the 4S device in the country on January 13 descended into chaos, resulting in the company withdrawing the popular smartphone from sale until further notice. And yes, right now China is in the midst of its pre-holiday shopping rush. Their one-week holiday begins on January 23, and so Apple will have lost many sales by removing the 4S from its shelves. Even its online store has sold out. The phone can still be picked up from China Unicom and authorised resellers, but supplies are scarce.

As Bloomberg points out, there’ll be many out there who’ll be rather happy with the way things have gone for Apple in China so far this year – its competitors, for example. Samsung and others will be hoping to capitalize on the absence of the iPhone just prior to the country’s gift-giving season next week, a period which last year saw shoppers spend an estimated $64 billion.

Is the appeal of Apple’s iPhone 4S strong enough that consumers will wait, or will makers of Android handsets see a boost in sales?

David Wolf, chief executive officer of a Beijing-based consulting firm, thinks it’ll be the latter. “A large portion of Chinese New Year sales are about having the gifts in hand right now,” he told Bloomberg. “Android devices competitive with the iPhone will benefit.” HTC and Motorola could also be beneficiaries of Apple’s decision to postpone the launch of the 4S, Wolf said.

It’s going to be interesting to see whether there’ll be any long-term impact on sales of the iPhone in the country, and whether Apple’s image has been tarnished by events earlier this month.

“Most worrying is the potential loss of good will. There might be real demand permanently lost,” a Beijing-based analyst with IDC China commented.

Apple is currently the fourth most popular smartphone vendor in the country, behind Nokia Oyj, Samsung and Huawei Technologies.