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iFad? Apple’s special relationship with Asia

There’s a universal truth in the online world.

Scan the discussion pages of any article featuring the words Apple or Android and the comments page will be a battleground for fanboys of both sects.

Only it’s not quite universal. Because in Asia things are done a little differently.

For example, this week’s bombshell that Apple’s Q1 growth has been driven by a five-fold increase in Chinese sales set tongues wagging across the world.

Across the world with the exception of south-east Asia, where eyebrows were raised but jaws were not dropping to the floor.

This might have been a secret in the West, with their photo galleries of long queues and shiny stores next to Central Park, but the reality is that China – which now accounts for 20 per cent of Apple’s revenues – and Asia was always the big prize.

Asia is so Apple crazy that teens sell vital organs just so they can get their hands on an iPhone and iPad. So several hundred per cent growth doesn’t seem too outlandish.

It is a region where I have never had a single serious client initiated conversation about Android, and where an iPad has almost become the genericised by-word for tablet.

Put simply. Asia is the heartland of Apple.

But it’s not the new heartland, not even close. You see it’s been pretty much the same story in Asia’s more developed markets for quite some time.

In notoriously insular and patriotic Japan, Apple is the number one consumer brand according to the latest Nikkei brand report.

Market analysts IDC also rank the iPhone as the biggest selling smartphone in the country, the first time ever that a non-Japanese company has topped the charts.

As far back as 2010 AdMob released data showing it was serving ads to 481,000 iOS devices in Singapore. That’s astonishing when you remember the population of the country was only 4.7m at the time.

That means one in ten people in Singapore owned an Apple device. Yes, 10 per cent of every single inhabitant of this little island. Australia was the second on the list, trailing way behind, with 6.96 per cent owning iOS.

Even today, in the face of a huge marketing onslaught by Samsung, Apple still has a market share of 54 per cent in Singapore, That’s roughly three times the global average of 18.2 per cent.

The only market in which Apple comes off worse in the scrap with Android is in South Korea. Not surprising considering it’s the home of Samsung

As a fairly died in the wool (but non-prejudiced) Android user I have to admit it was a culture shock moving back to the region and seeing the Apple hysteria in full effect. I’ve often felt like the last kid to arrive at the party when I plop my Galaxy S2 onto the table. I wish it would change, but Apple can rest easy at night knowing that they still have massive markets in Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia and Malaysia to tap into when the time is right.

And that leaves the several billion dollar question. Why is it that Asians love Apple? Is there something in the way we as a region think? Or the way we are marketed to that makes a difference?

The helpful answer is. I don’t know.

I’ve searched for white papers, expert opinion and people waxing lyrical on the subject. But I guess because it didn’t happen in China until now, it didn’t happen (see last week’s column on media perceptions of Asia).

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So in the interests of controversy and stereotype, I did a straw poll amongst friends, colleagues and clients. Who for scientific purposes come from a whole range of backgrounds.

A Chinese friend pointed to Apple’s intuitive UI and fabulous design principles, which fits well with the very trend conscious Asian market, several said it was because the region is so brand aspirational that it was the ‘it’ status accessory to have while a third thinks the Asian consumer was very susceptible to strong brand marketing.

A few cynical Singaporeans said it wasn’t a surprise because Singaporeans are unimaginative and follow the herd. An interesting argument, but could they extrapolate that one across to the super creative Japanese?

Finally, one colleague also suggested that the way Apple designs its products has somehow managed to tap into the way the Asian brain is wired.

Outrageous right? Well here’s some food for thought.

A recent Nielsen US study breaking down mobile operating systems by race showed that ethnic Asians are the highest consumer of iOS products. In fact they are more than twice as likely to own an Apple product as an African American and 20 per cent more so than a Caucasian.

Could it be that Apple has accidentally found a hard wire into the Asian genetic mentality? I’m off to get a grant to study that one.

Picture credit: J. Henning Buchholz/


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