The importance of China to Apple has been discussed many times by CEO Tim Cook and is now clear due to the last couple of quarters of monster growth. China’s sheer population and exploding economy combine to make it an incredibly important global market, and it looks like it may now be even more vital than the United States. In a report earlier this morning, China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) said China passed 1 billion total mobile phone subscribers as of March at a growing rate of 1.18-percent per month. With potentially this many people to sell smartphones to, China is definitely a region Apple needs to keep hitting hard.

Furthermore, research firm Catalyst is out with another interesting factoid about China, claiming the country has overtaken the U.S. as the world’s largest smartphone market. China’s smartphone market has grown 81 percent year-over-year, where as the U.S. is only 5 percent. In Q1 2012, China accounted for 22 percent of worldwide smartphone shipments, where the U.S. was only 16 percent.

This rise is most likely due to the iPhone 4S’ availability on China Telecom and the carrier starting in Q1 2012. Chinese customers, who formerly had to resort to buying the device off the Internet or scalpers, finally got the phone they were after.

However, there are still a ton of customers in China that Apple isn’t taking advantage of —yet. China Mobile, the country’s largest carrier, does not have the iPhone on its network. The next iPhone is most likely going to be on China Mobile, thanks to Qualcomm’s new chip that supports TD-SCDMA, TD-LTE, LTE on FDD and TDD networks.

Interestingly, two-thirds of the smartphones that shipped in China during Q1 2012 were Android devices. However, I really think that with China Mobile, and continued work on China Telecom and China Unicom, the country will continue to pay off for Apple.

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