Report: 21 million active iOS smartphones, tablets in China

An increasing number of smartphones and tablet devices are making their way into the hands of the Chinese citizen. BYOD may not be a talking point yet, but may soon be in the wealthier cities and provinces.

There are 21 million iOS devices in active use in China, says Shanghai-based Stenvall Skoeld & Company in a blog entry published late last week.  The strategic advisory firm arrived at this figure by tabulating data obtained from Chinese mobile research firm Umeng and its own analysis of the number of iOS devices in the world's most populous country. Devices counted include the iPhone smartphone and iPad tablet at the end of 2011, though not including the iPod Touch which also runs on the iOS operating system.

The majority of such iOS devices are found in just a handful of provinces, with the heavily industrialized Guangdong province topping the charts with13.42% of its inhabitants claiming ownership of an iOS device. Prosperous cities such as Beijing and Shanghai came in second and third to lead the pack at 10.38% and 10.27% respectively. This means that every tenth person you meet on the streets in Beijing and Shanghai could have an iPad or iPhone tucked away under their arms or in a handbag.

In a way, 21 million iOS devices is a surprisingly high figure given how the starting price of an iPhone (3,988 yuan) and iPad (2,988 yuan) is beyond the reach of many Chinese. Part of the reason could probably be attributed to rising consumerism after the communist country opened up its borders to business and commerce; there is an immediate recognition invoked by toting an iPhone or iPad in terms of exhibiting one's personal affluence.

There are also downsides to consumerism though, as can be evidenced in news reports of five people being indicted for illegal organ trading by authorities. As reported by the official Xinhua News Agency late Friday, a 17-year-old student had apparently sold one of his kidneys and used the proceeds to purchase an iPhone and an iPad. In a country where about 1.5 million people need organ transplants, strong cultural taboos have resulted in only about 10,000 transplants being performed each year, fueling a lucrative black market trade in human organs. It's understood that the teenager now suffers from renal deficiency as a result of the kidney transplant, and the condition is deteriorating.

What is undeniable is the fact that smartphones and tablets are finding their way into the hands of the Chinese in China, with a huge growth potential given its relatively low penetration. To press home the point of increasing smartphone and tablet ownership, the short blog also referenced an earlier report by Flurry Analytics which pegged China as having overtaken the United States with the most number of Android and iOS device activations in March 2012.

The large disparity in population between the U.S. and China (310M versus 1.33B) does mean that it may be some time yet before the BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) phenomenal becomes a talking point among IT professionals and executives in China. Yet for places such as Beijing and Shanghai, it could take place sooner than later.