Apple’s Mac Attack On China

Whenever you see those photos and stories of the crazy crowds at Apple stores in China, they seem to always be about the launch of a new iPhone. But if Apple has its way, soon those masses will be clamoring for something else as well: Mac computers.

Apple CEO Tim Cook, speaking earlier this week at the Goldman Sachs conference, noted that China accounted for $13 billion in sales last year for his company, and in that time, sales of Mac computers in China went up by 100 percent.

We don’t know exactly what that means in terms of how actual unit sales of Macs compared to other products like the iPhone; but whatever it is, today we saw that the Mac market in China definitely means something to Apple.

As MG pointed out earlier today in his overview of OS X Mountain Lion, Apple is putting a significant amount of new features into the OS specifically for the Chinese market, bringing Mohammed closer to the Mountain, as it were.

They include more flexible input for Chinese characters — including the ability to switch between English and Chinese more readily — and a number of options that integrate Apple more closely with popular local Internet services.

Baidu, currently China’s most popular search engine, is becoming a built-in search option in Safari. The popular video sharing services Tudou and Youku will be part of Apple’s “Share Sheets” to post videos to the web. Similarly QQ, 163 and 126, which are options in Mail, Contacts and Calendar; while Sina weibo, a Twitter-like service, will be integrated should a user want to do a bit of microblogging.

What’s interesting about the Chinese market, as it has developed in mobile, is that users have found workarounds for official services to get the services that they want, when they want them.

That has been a prevalent issue, for example, with Android, with forked versions of the OS and many competing app stores vying for consumers’ attention. That’s led to an uneven experience, and nothing in the way of benefits for Google, with no proceeds from app sales or advertising around them.

In its first foray into making an OS local, Apple appears to be trying to take a more cautious, more controlled approach to the situation. It is looking to give its users what they most want, so that they don’t feel the need to look elsewhere for it, such as in jailbroken app stores.

That has also appeared to be the direction Apple has been moving with iOS services in China, too. Back in November, the company began to accept payments in Chinese yuan in its App Store: previously users would have needed credit cards that processed in dollars to make app purchases. That would have cut out many users who would have only been able to use free apps legally. And, as with other kinds of piracy, that would have contributed to a large black market for paid apps.

The China story for Apple also dovetails nicely with the fact that OS X is getting ever-closer to iOS in its functionality, with a very close association between the two products for Chinese consumers. In an interview earlier today with the WSJ, Tim Cook highlighted how the popularity of the iPhone has led to stronger sales of the Mac line of computers.

“They know about Apple and what Apple stands for,” said Cook. “Then they search out and look for the Mac.” At the Goldman Sachs conference this week, he said that this was a progression of the halo effect that had once been associated with the iPod and the Mac.

Given how central the mobile phone has been to China’s leap into the digital world — 1 billion mobile users, with 102 million on smartphones — it may not ever be the case that Macs sell as well as iPhones in China (or other markets, for that matter). But as Apple ties users ever more into multi-screen services like iCloud, that Mac will be just as important as the iPhone, and whatever else Apple has up its sleeve, in getting users to stay loyal.