What the iPhone 5C means for Apple's ambitions in China and the battle against Android

The imminent launch of the iPhone 5S and iPhone 5C over in California is gripping the technology world, and while we're waiting with baited breath to see how the new smartphones size up, potentially the more interesting overall story arc relates to Apple's decision to hold a standalone event in China for the first time.

Hotly tipped to be Apple's breakthrough product in key emerging markets, the iPhone 5C represents Apple's first foray into the mainstream smartphone segment, with the rumour mill predictably running riot with speculation regarding the nascent device's potential cost, colour options, and of course specifications.

Industry pundits, too, are fascinated at how the US tech titan's big push to woo China will pan out. The company arguably reached a nadir there recently, with new data indicating that Apple has slipped to seventh place in the Chinese smartphone market, falling behind rising star Xiaomi.

However, the landscape could soon change. As important as the iPhone 5C itself will be - and you can follow all the action on our Apple iPhone 5S and iPhone 5C launch live blog - Apple finally announcing a partnership with China Mobile, the largest mobile operator in the world with an estimated subscriber base of 740 million, could ultimately prove the more telling move as the fruit-themed firm looks to step up its assault on Android.

"Holding an event in Beijing is a clear indication of Apple's intention to penetrate the Asian market with its new 5C device. Given the size of the opportunity that China holds, it's not hard to understand why. According to Ovum, the number of mobile connections in China is expected to rise by almost 100 million by 2017, with smartphone penetration set to rise from 46 per cent to 64 per cent during the same period. However, Android's share of market growth is predicted to be more than double that of Apple over the course of the next four years," commented Markellos Diorinos, head of engagement management at Upstream.

He continued: "This makes getting the cost of the 5C right all the more significant for Apple, who must ensure the device is within reach of the masses. Given that the average annual income in China is approximately $2,100 (£1,340), pitching the 5C in at the wrong price point could create serious obstacles as Apple tries to establish its presence in China and other emerging markets. According to recent research we conducted, a third of emerging market consumers would only pay $100 (£64) or less for a smartphone, so even if Apple drops its premium price tag, only a drastic drop in the cost of the device can guarantee its victory in these regions."

The race of win the hearts, minds, and hard-earned cash of consumers in emerging markets is no secret. Nor is the well-documented decline of Apple's market share to the benefit of chief rival Android. It's a trend that Apple will be hoping to start to reverse, though it's unlikely the company will ever own a majority share again given the sheer number of Android devices being pumped out across the globe.

All things considered, Apple's decision to hold a specific launch event to China appears to be a step in the right direction. At the same time, it's clear that the iconic Western company will face a number of ongoing challenges as it continues to try to crack the emerging market riddle.

Mr Diorinos added: "An immediate challenge for Apple is its inability to adapt its App model, which relies on the use of consumer debit and credit card details and which is not compatible with many non-Western markets. Given the lack of access to banking facilities in these regions, content on the App Store remains beyond the reach for a large number of these consumers.

"If Apple truly wants to make its mark in the developing world, working closely with mobile network operators will be critical, as it is the operators that can unlock mobile content by allowing users to pay for data and apps via their pre or post-paid mobile contracts. In this light, the depth and breadth of Apple's relationship with operators such as China Telecom or ChinaUnicom will ultimately determine its future success," he concluded.