China, with the buying potential of its emerging middle class slowly coming to fruition, represents one of the greatest growth opportunities for Apple, and Apple is taking advantage.
Research company Stenvall Skoeld & Co., using data from Flurry Mobile and Umeng, a Chinese research firm, was able to conclude that through 2011, more than 21 million iPhones and iPads are now in service in China.
And that number is growing.
According to the report (via The Apple Blog), 1 in 9 residents of Beijing, and 1 in 11 in Shanghai, currently own an iPhone or iPad. While Beijing and Shanghai represent most of China's wealthier population, Apple has always positioned itself as a higher-end brand.
These numbers also represent the pre-new iPad China, as Apple's latest tablet has yet to officially go on sale there.
Here in the U.S., Apple has been able to use its brand recognition and increasingly more competitive pricing models to attract a wider income bracket to its products. Offering the older iPhone models like the 3GS (free when signing a contract with AT&T) or the iPhone 4 (as low as $99 with a contract on Verizon or AT&T) has allowed Apple to expand past the "luxury brand" tag its earlier products earned it.
If Apple takes a similar approach in China, its market share is likely to expand into the poorer, inland areas. Currently Apple has carrier deals with two of the three major wireless providers in China. The remaining holdout, though, China Mobile, represents about 70 percent of the wireless users in China.
Certainly a deal with China Mobile would accelerate Apple's growth, giving most of the country's wireless customers access to Apple's iOS devices.