As revealed by Baidu, China’s homegrown version of Google, via Net4Tech, we now have some of the first fairly reliable statistics out of the China market on Android’s penetration into the PRC. And the data, based on third-quarter usage figures in China, shows around 270 million Android users in China – or exactly 20 percent of the entire 1.35 billion population of China. And all this in a market where lack of a centralized Google Play store or frequently of formal activation makes precise tracking difficult.

Baidu’s alarming numbers for Apple – in Chinese or any other language.

Growth and adoption appears to be no longer at the breakneck pace seen in some previous quarters, with 13 percent increase in 3Q2013, compared to a staggering 67 percent in 1Q2012, for example. But if you consider the sharp differentials in average income levels and overall development between China’s wealthier urbanized eastern seaboard and the less developed interior, then takeup in the richer provinces and metropolitan areas could even be approaching saturation levels. Net4Tech emphasizes that much of the growth impetus is now catch-up in the trailing provinces.

What does this mean for the future of Android – and Apple – and global market share? Well, remember that old cliche about all the Chinese in the world jumping at once? Right now, if a message went out to all Chinese Android users to jump at the same time, there would be a small earthquake in China.

And the implications for Apple are just as earth-shaking. Yes, according to SinaTech via TheNextWeb, Apple already has 42 million iPhone users on China Mobile alone, even without a formal deal to run China Mobile’s PRC-developed TD-SCDMA 3G standard. That still pales in comparison to the Android figure. And TheNextWeb quotes Apple’s 3Q2013 earnings figures to the effect that it sold 31.2 million iPhones and 14.6 million iPads in the quarter. The IDC numbers I already cited show worldwide smartphone shipments alone, never mind tablets and other mobile OS devices, topping 1 billion for the full year 2013. Android is building up an unbeatable lead.

And consider for a moment software and app development, rather than hardware. What Chinese developer is going to target iOS for preference when Apple’s current devices can’t even run China Mobile’s 3G standard? Never mind that a deal with the Chinese authorities is apparently in the works: What developer will sit still and wait for that, with a market of 270 million and counting waiting to be served? And even given China’s notorious problems of software piracy, what about billable services and media offered over mobile networks? Apple’s app lead, already eroding in the West, is a complete non-starter in China.

The closed-door proprietary OS and in-store technology approach that Apple pioneered is breaking down when it has an open-door (if not fully open-source) alternative to compete against in the international arena. And all those groovy designs and lavish outlay of marketing dollars that build Apple its premium niche? They just put Apple further in the hole versus Chinese no-brand copycats ready to capitalize on all their hard work. If you’re going to shell out on a niche, better make sure it’s defensible.

So there we are. The Chinese earthquake is shaking down the walls of Apple’s walled garden. Interesting times for Apple – to cite another (supposedly) Chinese proverb.


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