By Eric Pfanner and Brian X. Chen
The New York Times
Just about any way you slice it, 763 million customers is a huge potential pie.
On Sunday, Apple and China Mobile announced a deal to bring the iPhone to the Chinese carrier, the largest wireless network in the world.
An agreement with China Mobile could, at least initially, give Apple a big lift into the vast Chinese market, analysts say, increasing its worldwide sales. But the company will face many challenges in capturing the Chinese market.
While Apple's smartphones are dominant in the United States and a major player in Europe, the company has not gained as much traction in China, where phones using Google's Android operating system dominate for several reasons, particularly price.
In China, some smartphone makers, like Huawei, Coolpad and ZTE, offer Android phones for less than $100, while Apple lists the iPhone 5C at $739, and the 5S at $871.
Apple is the No. 5 smartphone player in the country, behind Samsung and the Chinese handset makers Huawei, Lenovo and Yulong.
Still, analysts were optimistic that Apple would sell a lot of phones through China Mobile, though they offered wide-ranging estimates for how much more. William Power, an analyst for Robert W. Baird, said Apple could sell as many as 30 million more iPhones in 2014, while Toni Sacconaghi, an analyst for Sanford C. Bernstein research, offered a more conservative estimate of 15 million iPhones.
Apple sold about 23 million iPhones in China over the past year, Sacconaghi said.
Apple has long pursued a deal with China Mobile. The carrier showed signs of warming up to Apple only after it began losing customers to competitors that offered the iPhone. The second- and third-largest carriers in the country, China Unicom and China Telecom, have had longstanding arrangements with Apple, but they are much smaller than China Mobile.