Apple has announced that TD-LTE-enabled models of its iPad Air and iPad mini with Retina display will be available in the Chinese market as of 1 April. The new iPad models allow customers to connect to the country’s most advanced cellular data networks at high speeds. The new TD-LTE iPad models also accommodate the TD-SCDMA mobile standard and join the existing models iPad Air and iPad mini with Retina display WLAN + Cellular, which work with other cellular technologies, to provide Chinese customers fast cellular access with whichever iPad model they may select.
We have previously reported on China’s somewhat quixotic adoption of the TD-LTE standard (Time-Division Long-Term Evolution) for its high-speed mobile service, as opposed to the FDD-LTE (Frequency Division Duplex Long-Term Evolution) technology used by most of the rest of the world. The production of iPads models with TD-LTE capability should be understood against the backdrop of recent events involving Apple and the Chinese mobile market. In late December, Apple signed a multiyear deal with China Mobile, China’s largest MNO, to sell the iPhone to its subscribers. The latest models of the iPhone, the 5s and 5c, which were launched in September 2013, were designed to be TD-LTE compatible, and so with them, Apple was poised to take full advantage of China Mobile’s 760 million customer base. (The country’s other two operators, China Unicom and China Telecom, already supplied the iPhone.)
However, figures out this week indicate that in the three months since the deal with China Mobile, iOS’ share of China’s smartphone market declined by 6.5 percentage points rather than rising. It now stands at 17.9 percent, compared to Android’s 80.3 percent. In that context, it makes sense that Apple would want to take any further steps it can to appeal to Chinese mobile customers. Producing LTE-enabled iPads seems like a reasonable move along those lines, a chance to shore up iOS adoption among increasingly data-hungry Chinese customers. But with such massive pressure from Android, Apple’s come-from-behind strategy in China just became a come-from-further-behind strategy.