China is well on its way to becoming the world’s most important market for mobile devices. Sometime in February the number of iOS(s AAPL) and Android (s GOOG) activations in the country surpassed those coming from device owners in the U.S. — an important milestone. But how many iPhones and iPads specifically are there in China right now? Stenvall Skoeld & Co., which advises businesses and private equity firms looking for M&A opportunities in China, used reports from Flurry Mobile, Chinese mobile research firm Umeng and its own data to figure it out. The company found that as of the end of 2011 there were 21 million iPhones and iPads in China.
Those devices, according to their findings, are heavily concentrated in wealthier urban areas. Here’s a graph showing the distribution by region:
Stenvall Skoeld & Co. found that one in every nine residents of Beijing and one in every 11 residents of Shanghai owns an iPhone or an iPad. So when we’re talking about the progress that Apple has made in China, we’re really talking about the success the company has had in penetrating the country’s wealthier, coastal urban areas, and not much of the poorer rural regions.
Sure, Apple devices are expensive in China, and the prices are still out of reach for lots of people. But data like this also shows the growing potential for Apple’s future business in the country, especially if Apple continues its recent pattern of dropping the price of older model iPhones and iPads when introducing a new model. That drops the barrier of entry much lower for customers who could otherwise not afford a brand new iOS device.
And while 21 million is a lot, there are a couple things that happened earlier this year that, if factored in, could make those numbers look a lot different now: The iPhone 4S went on sale in January in China — you might remember the egg-throwing and fights that broke out among those jostling for position in line outside the Beijing and Shanghai Apple stores — and in early March China Telecom began offering the device to its 15 million subscribers.
Those numbers could get a significant bump too, when the new iPad, which still hasn’t hit store shelves in China, goes on sale there.
And the biggest factor that could inflate those numbers: China Mobile does not officially offer the iPhone on its network, and the carrier counts 70 percent of Chinese mobile users as customers.