Apple to Offer Rare Discount on iPhones in China

Ever bought a discounted new phone from Apple? For most people, the answer is no. That’s because Apple doesn’t really do discounts.

But in China, Apple is slashing the price of some of its latest iPhones by $70 amid worries that Chinese consumers have cooled on the brand. That would save a buyer about 6 to 8 percent, based on prices on Apple’s China website. It has also knocked $112 off the price of some MacBook Air laptops. The sale will start on Thursday and run through Sunday.

Cutting prices on high-end electronics to buyers in China is an unexpected move for Apple, one that highlights the challenges the American company faces in China, where patriotic shoppers are choosing domestic brands amid rising U.S.-China tensions.

Apple and its Chinese rival, Huawei, are on the front lines of a battle over technology between Beijing and Washington that has seen both countries restrict access to foreign technology. Long suspicious of Huawei’s close ties to the Chinese government and wary that its technology could be used for spying, American officials have stopped federal agencies from buying equipment from Huawei and tried to discourage other countries as well.

China, for its part, has issued directives to some of its government employees not to use iPhones at work and encouraged domestic brands.

The tit-for-tat is not good for business. Apple has a lot to lose from the surge in tensions between the United States and China, a huge market that accounts for one-fifth of its overall revenue.

Overall sales of smartphones in China fell about 3 percent in 2023 because of the country’s slowing economy. It is also the only major economy to sink into deflation as Chinese cut spending, and household savings rose to a high point.

Huawei has taken aim at Apple’s market share in China, most recently unveiling a smartphone with an enhanced camera, something that Apple has long advertised as a selling point.

Apple said in November that its overall sales in China had fallen 2.5 percent. The company has reported a drop in sales for three quarters over the last year.

Discounts are not unusual ahead of the Lunar New Year, which is next month and one of the biggest shopping periods of the year in China. Apple’s current promotion includes an image of a giant dragon made of iPhones, Apple watches and AirPods, in a nod to the upcoming year of the dragon in the Chinese zodiac.

The discounts prompted debate on Chinese social media on Monday.

“Apple will only cut the price of its phones when domestic phones become more popular,” wrote a well-known blogger known as Victorious Zhang Beihai. Another commentator wrote: “It is still too expensive. I support domestic phones.”

Apple’s Lunar New Year promotion is “a move not commonly seen in the past,” said Toby Zhu, a senior analyst at Canalys, a market research firm. Canalys’s research indicates that Apple’s sales in China fell last summer compared to 2022, but that the company still holds about 66 percent of the market for high-end smartphones in China.

Mr. Zhu added that the models of iPhones under promotion appear to have already sold out.

Still, he added, “it does indicate the challenges Apple is facing in the mainland China market.”

Olivia Wang contributed reporting.

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