Xiaomi led China's smartphone market as its biggest vendor for the third straight quarter. But Apple is closing in, thanks to demand for its iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, and may even overtake Xiaomi this year.
In this year's first quarter, Xiaomi claimed a 13 percent share, while Apple captured 12 percent, research firm Strategy Analytics said Wednesday. In the first quarter of last year, Apple's share was 8 percent compared to Xiaomi's 11 percent.
Xiaomi, a maker of inexpensive Android phones, is riding on the success of its Redmi models, which can start at 599 yuan (US$98) when bought without carrier subsidies.
But the company's smartphone shipments have been declining over the past two quarters, Strategy Analytics said. Apple, on the other hand, witnessed booming sales. In the quarter, Apple shipped 13.5 million smartphones to the country, up from 7.8 million units a year ago.
Demand for iPhones is so high that Apple could become China's largest smartphone vendor later this year, Strategy Analytics added. Apple's iPhone 6 starts at 5288 yuan, making it more expensive than phones from Xiaomi.
Chinese consumers have said the iPhone 6's bigger-screen size and Apple's famous brand are reasons why customers are flocking to buy the devices.
As for Samsung Electronics, the South Korean company's market share continues to sag. It ranked as China's fourth largest vendor in the quarter, with a 10 percent market share, said Linda Sui, an analyst with the research firm.
This is the first time since the end of 2011, when the company was ranked fourth place in China, she added. Samsung had once been China's leading smartphone vendor, but it's faced intense competition from Apple and domestic handset vendors such as Xiaomi, offering low-cost but feature-rich smartphones.
Samsung, however, recently launched its newest flagship phones, the Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 Edge, which should catapult the company back into the top 3 rankings, Sui added.
Ranking in third place was Huawei, which also had a 10 percent share. It accomplished this, by selling more phones online and improving its product design, Strategy Analytics said.