Thailand has been promoted to Apple's first-tier of rollout markets with availability of the new iPhone 14 lineup scheduled for Sept 16, in a move that industry pundits say signifies the importance of the country for the US tech giant in terms of sales.
Apple's new flagship lineup is expected to stimulate demand in the domestic smartphone market in the final quarter.
Apple on Thursday launched the new iPhone 14 lineup, comprising iPhone 14 (6.1-inch display), iPhone 14 Plus (6.7-inch display) and the more advanced iPhone 14 Pro (6.1-inch display) and iPhone 14 Pro Max (6.7-inch display).
According to Apple, Thailand is among the first batch of countries to see iPhone 14, iPhone 14 Pro and iPhone 14 Pro Max models hit the market on Sept 16, while iPhone 14 Plus will be available on Oct 7. All the models can be pre-ordered from Friday.
Global market research firm IDC says Thailand had the highest iPhone sales in Asean during the period 2018-2021.
Teerit Paowan, a market analyst for IDC, said iPhone has an 11.4% market share of Thailand's smartphone sales. Although Singapore has a high level of purchasing power, its market is smaller, while Vietnam's market is growing rapidly.
He stressed high inflation and economic woes have had no impact on the premium smartphone segment.
The iPhone 14 lineup comes with new safety features, including crash detection and emergency SOS via satellite.
Crash detection on iPhones can now detect a severe car crash and automatically dial emergency services when a user is unconscious or unable to reach their iPhone.
In terms of the satellite feature, users can use their iPhone to connect to a satellite to send emergency SOS messages to seek help when they are in the areas without cell towers or WiFi connection.
With regard to the US model, iPhone 14 series comes without the SIM tray as Apple wants to support the use of eSIM to enable users to easily connect and transfer their existing plans digitally.
Glen Cardoza, senior analyst at market research firm Counterpoint, said Apple has been one of the top 3 premium smartphones in Thailand for a few years while the new iPhone 14 series is an improvement on multiple fronts.
As Thailand and Singapore have a healthy base of Apple consumers, the company will make sure the shipments are not delayed, Mr Cardoza said.
Operators, retailers and other market players will make sure that there are good value added services, related offers and attractive trade-in options for this series when it launches in Thailand.
"A relatively established 5G infrastructure will motivate consumers to consider this series. More so, after months of economic volatility, many affluent consumers will get a reason to upgrade because of pent-up demand," he said.
He said more than 200 mobile operators in over 75 countries are supporting eSIM provisioning and management.
Integrating eSIM involves a change in mindset, technology and cost for telecoms, he said. "The operators will need to consider getting compatible to eSIM devices at a faster rate now."
"We see early shipments to tier one countries, making the tech savvy, affluent and power-users jump at getting their hands on the Pro versions," Mr Cardoza said. "We should see Apple's volumes go up in the fourth quarter."
The starting prices of the new lineup are 32,900 baht for iPhone 14; 37,900 baht for iPhone 14 Plus; 41,900 baht for iPhone 14 Pro; and 44,900 baht for iPhone 14 Pro Max.
Paramate Rienjaroensuk, chief executive of SET-listed digital lifestyle product distributor Copperwired, said Apple introduced iPhone 14 Plus with a screen size on par with the Pro Max version but the former is much cheaper.
"This could attract users of iPhone 10-12, who may want to upgrade their handsets," he said.
In the face of economic headwinds, users now tend to adopt an instalment payment plan of 12-24 months for an iPhone purchase instead of 3-6 months, he said.
Pisut Ngamvijitvong, senior equity research analyst at Kasikorn Securities, said the launch date of the iPhone 14 lineup in Thailand on Sept 16 is two weeks earlier than last year when the iPhone 13 series hit the market.
The iPhone 14 lineup is about 4-10% more expensive than the iPhone 13 series.
In terms of interesting new features, the iPhone 14 lineup comes with crash detection and emergency SOS via satellite as well as better adaptive and deep focus for both front and rear cameras and all-day battery capacity.
For iPhone 14 Pro and Pro Max, they also come with a new advanced A16 Bionic chip, he added.