Apple iPhones Go on Sale in China, Posthaste

Apple iPhone 5s Sale China H

Past iPhone releases rolled out in the country months after the U.S., but this time Chinese buyers can pick up the iPhone 5S and 5C on the same day as American consumers.

The growing power of the Chinese consumer once again went on display today, as Apple for the first time released its new iPhones in Hong Kong and China on the same date as the U.S. and Europe.

In the past, iPhones were made available in China three months after their domestic and European release.

PHOTOS: Steve Jobs: 10 Memorable Milestones of the Apple Co-Founder's Career

Friday is a national holiday in China and Hong Kong, which has led some to speculate that Apple may have planned the entire global rollout with the Chinese market in its sights.

Chinese newspapers carried full-page ads today announcing the release of the new Apple phones. And there were lines of customers snaking around the block outside the Apple Store in Sanlitun in downtown Beijing for most of the day.

Apple CEO Tim Cook has visited China twice in the last year and has said on several occasions that he expects the country to overtake the U.S. as the company’s largest market.

STORY: Apple CEO Tim Cook Makes Second Trip to China Within Past Year

Apple has seen its fortunes in China take a substantial slide over the past year, however. The company’s market share fell by nearly 50 percent in the second quarter; it is now the seventh most popular smartphone maker in the world’s most populous country. Apple sales in China fell 14 percent to $4.6 billion last quarter.

The company’s China business has also been hindered by the lack of a carriage deal with China Mobile, the country’s biggest carrier -- and the world’s largest by subscribers. According to unnamed sources cited by Bloomberg, Apple is close to an agreement with China Mobile, which would give it access to 745 million new potential customers.  

Clifford Coonan in Beijing contributed to this report.