Apple launched an updated smartphone at its headquarters in Cupertino, California on Tuesday, unveiling both the premium iPhone 5S and mass-market iPhone 5C.
The launch is expected to heat up competition in the global smartphone market after rival Samsung already unveiled its Galaxy Note 3 in Germany last week.
The iPhone 5S is equipped with Apple's A7 application processor, making processing speed twice as fast as that of its predecessor, the iPhone 5. Its fingerprint-recognition function was the most eye-catching improvement on the previous model.
The iPhone 5C features most of the components of the iPhone 5S, such as the 8-megapixel camera and 4-inch display, but telecoms in the U.S. are selling it at a starting price of US$99 for the 16GB model with a two-year subscription.
When the first iPhone came out six years ago, the cheapest model cost $299 for the 8GB model, and Apple tried for a long time to keep prices high. Now it has definitely descended into the mid- to low-price market.
The iPhone 5C has put Samsung on alert, especially since it targets the Chinese market. At the event, Apple CEO Tim Cook said the iPhone 5C will be sold in 11 countries first, including the U.S., China, France, Germany and Japan -- the first time China was on the list.
Globally, the smartphone market is more or less mature and unlikely to grow dramatically, but that is not the case in China. A staffer with Samsung's China operations said smartphone sales in China this year tripled compared to 2012 and the company almost achieved its annual sales target in the first six months of the year. China, in other words, is Samsung's main growth engine. Apple on the other hand has struggled to sell iPhones there, accounting for just 4.3 percent of the market in the second quarter to rank seventh.
Samsung is No. 1 and controls 19.4 percent of the Chinese market.
The biggest cause of Apple's small share was that the No. 1 telecom, China Mobile, which has 740 million users, does not sell iPhones. Apple used to be extremely fussy about what it wanted from China Mobile in order to give it the right to sell the iPhone, and their relationship soured.
But that has changed. Among the iPhones released Wednesday, one caters to the Chinese version of the fourth-generation LTE technology (TD-LTE), which China Mobile will be the first in the world to offer at the end of this year.
The same thing will happen in Japan. Japan's No. 1 telecom NTT DoCoMo, which has not sold the iPhone until now for the same reason as China Mobile, has come round. CEO Kaoru Kato said his company will start selling the new iPhone on Sept. 20.
Meanwhile, Samsung’s mobile business chief Shin Jong-kyun on Wednesday told reporters the Korean electronics giant must "do a better job" now that Apple has improved its position in China and Japan.