The new installment payment plans require a China Merchants Bank Co. credit card, with fees ranging from zero percent for a three-month installment plan to 8.5 percent for a 24-month plan. The payment structure likely represents Apple's attempt at making its products, typically priced at a premium, more affordable for urban Chinese workers.
Bloomberg noted Wednesday that Apple fell from fourth to sixth place in China's smartphone market in the third quarter and now trails firms such as ZTE, Samsung, and Lenovo, whose smartphone offerings are more affordable than Apple's iPhone.
Industry observers have long held that a cheaper iPhone would give Apple control over the growing Chinese market, and the financing move may allow Apple to retain its typical profit margins and brand image while widening its base of potential buyers in what will soon become the world's largest market.
The iPhone 5, which hit the Chinese market last month, costs 5,288 yuan on Apple's site, or about six weeks' pay for the average urban worker. By comparison, handsets from competitors often cost less than 1,000 yuan.
Talk of a cheaper iPhone was prevalent in the tech media over the past week, with The Wall Street Journal saying Apple would be releasing a lower-cost model of its top revenue generator for China and other emerging markets.
Sales of other Apple products have demonstrated demand for the Cupertino company's devices, as the iPad mini debuted to "insatiable demand" in China last December. Apple has increased its focus on the country accordingly, with chief executive Tim Cook visiting China twice in the past 10 months, most recently meeting with China Mobile, the world's largest wireless carrier.