A man holds an iPhone 6 in a mobile phone shop in Moscow. Picture: REUTERS
iCONSUME: Smartphone shipments in China rose nearly 18% last year from the previous year. Picture: REUTERS

HONG KONG — China shipments of smartphones from Apple, Microsoft and other makers that do not use the Android operating system rose about 33% in the final quarter of last year, according to government and analyst data, indicating strong sales for the iPhone in its largest market outside the US.

About 24.3-million smartphones not powered by Google’s software shipped within China between October and last month, according to data provided by the China Academy of Telecommunication Research, a research arm of the ministry of industry and information technology.

That total, the vast majority of which would be iPhones, had increased by a third from the same period a year earlier, Marbridge Consulting said.

"This would be a surprise," Alberto Moel, an analyst for Sanford C Bernstein in Hong Kong, said.

"Consensus is not pricing in any major blow-out in (the fourth quarter) for Apple, so this would be counter to the current investor sentiment."

Expectations that iPhone sales are faring worse than expected have depressed shares of Apple and its main rivals and suppliers including Samsung and Hon Hai Precision Industry. Samsung reported last week fourth-quarter earnings below analysts’ estimates, the latest sign the global smartphone market is running out of steam as markets mature and China’s economy decelerates.

"In hindsight, 2015 was a depressing year for tech hardware," HSBC global research analysts Steven Pelayo and Lionel Lin wrote in a report on Tuesday.

"Weak end-demand resulted in excess supply across the supply chain, leading to a focus on purging excess inventories for much of the year."

China is an increasingly critical component of Apple’s business, helping it sell a record 13-million iPhones during the September debut weekend of its latest handsets. Apple doubled its revenue from the country for the quarter ended-September to $12.5bn. The company has at least 28 stores in China and expects to operate 40 by mid-year.

"If they really did well in China last quarter, then it is very important for Apple, especially given all of the investments that Apple has made in building up its presence," said Bryan Ma, an analyst at International Data.

The non-Android segment also could include local Chinese operating systems, he said.