Apple CEO Tim Cook's claim today that the company broke iPhone sales records in China during 2013's fourth quarter meant that the firm sold in excess of 10.4 million smartphones in the region, an IDC analyst said today.
"Although we haven't released our total results, we sold more iPhone units last quarter in Greater China than ever before," Cook said during an interview with CNBC earlier today.
In the interview from Beijing that also featured China Mobile's chairman, Xi Guohua, Cook praised his new partner and commented on the importance of finally nailing down the carrier in a deal.
"This is a watershed day," Cook said. "I see this announcement today as being one of those very key milestone in doing great stuff over the long term for our customers, shareholders and employees."
Cook was in China ahead of Friday's launch of the iPhone on the country's largest mobile carrier, which boasts an estimated 740 million subscribers. Apple and China Mobile announced their partnership late last year.
By saying that fourth-quarter sales in Greater China — a region Apple defines as Hong Kong, the People's Republic of China, and Taiwan — set a record, Cook acknowledged that the company moved more than 10.4 million iPhones before the China Mobile deal had much impact, said Kevin Restivo, an analyst with IDC.
"That's our number for the previous high for iPhones in Greater China," said Restivo, naming the first quarter of 2012 as the old record.
During that quarter, Apple said it sold 35 million iPhones worldwide, a number that since then has been beat twice, first in the fourth quarter of 2012 (with 47.8 million iPhones) and then again in the first quarter of 2013 (37.4 million).
China Mobile started taking pre-orders of the iPhone on Dec. 25, 2013. It's likely those 2013 pre-orders were counted by Apple for the fourth quarter; the company has done the same before when it's accepted pre-orders.
"China is by itself helping the world market grow, so to be a global player you have to succeed in China," said Restivo about the importance of that market to Apple. "As a handset maker, it's incredibly hard to succeed unless you fare well in China."
In Apple's most recently-reported quarter, which ended Sept. 20, 2013, Greater China accounted for 15.3% of the company's total revenue, up from 8.8% in the first quarter of 2012, when Restivo said Apple had done the best until recently as far as iPhone sales.
Cook declined to elaborate on how well he expected the iPhone to sell with the China Mobile deal now in place. "I'll let others predict the numbers," he said during the interview.
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