Without 5G, new iPhones may struggle in China’s cutthroat smartphone market

Self-proclaimed iPhone loyalist Sam Zhang must soon decide on whether to continue using Apple’s flagship product or switch to a Chinese-brand smartphone. The X factor: 5G.

“I typically use an iPhone model for two to three years,” said 25-year-old Zhang, who has an iPhone 7 Plus and works for a foreign company in the southern coastal city of Shenzhen. “So if I buy the new iPhone 11, I won’t be able to use a 5G data plan for the next two to three years, which would be pretty dumb if everyone else is using the latest mobile service.”

Other iPhone users in the world’s largest smartphone market could also be prompted to make a similar decision, dampening the outlook on the mainland for the latest batch of iPhone models unveiled by Apple on Tuesday in the United States.

Apple launched three new models – the iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 Pro Max – all without 5G network support. Prices for the iPhone 11 start at US$699 (S$960), which is about US$50 less than last year’s iPhone XR. But the top-of-the-line, 512-gigabyte iPhone 11 Pro Max costs US$1,449, which remains at the high end of the market.

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