Here’s a hot shopping tip that I suspect most readers won’t be able to take advantage of – at the moment, Apple is discounting the iPhone in China. But I don’t bring that up because I’m actually hoping to influence anyone’s shopping behavior. I find it noteworthy for other reasons. 

It may seem odd that I’d find it noteworthy that a company was offering a discount on one of their products. Isn’t that something companies do all the time? Not in Apple’s case. They rarely – almost never, in fact – sell their devices at a discount. Take, for example, the “Black Friday” shopping experience in the United States, which is usually what kicks off the holiday shopping season leading up to Christmas. Many cell phone companies offer huge discounts during this event. In fact, in recent years these holiday discounted prices have been appearing well before Black Friday and lasting well past the Thanksgiving weekend. Google and Samsung will often offer their phones at significantly marked down prices, as well as offering bundle deals and enhanced trade-in values for older phones.

Last year, for example, Google knocked $200 of the price of their high-end flagship phone, the Pixel 8 Pro, even though it had only been released the month prior, and took $400 off the price of their folding phone/tablet hybrid, the Pixel Fold. Meanwhile, Apple only had promos for the actual Thanksgiving weekend, and rather than discounting their products, items were sold at full price, but certain purchases would come with an Apple gift card that could be used to buy more Apple products. So, buying a new Apple TV 4K would also get you a $50 gift card to Apple. 

So why is Apple now offering their top-end iPhones at discounts equal to hundreds of dollars in China, when they don’t offer anything like that kind of a discount in the United States during the quintessential holiday discount shopping event?  It’s because in China, Apple is facing steep and increasing competition from companies like Huawei – competition it doesn’t have to face in the United States market, because the United States government has banned those companies from competing in the US market on transparently thin “national security” grounds. (Although not as thin as the case pointed out by Jon Murphy, where protectionists invoked “national security” as a reason to ban not Chinese electronics, but Chinese garlic.) As a result, Chinese consumers are able to get iPhones at better prices than American consumers, because the Chinese government allows more competition in the cell phone market than the American government allows. And it seems like this move on Apple’s part has been successful, as Chinese consumers have responded positively to the price cuts. It’s just a shame American consumers don’t get the same benefits from this competition.

I’ve written before about how the Department of Justice’s assertion that companies like HTC and Microsoft failed to compete with Apple in the United States because of “barriers to entry” is absurd on the face of it. To recap, my claim there was that it’s absurd to say that Microsoft, which had been selling smartphones for years and had an established user base of millions upon millions of customers well before the iPhone existed failed to compete with the iPhone because Microsoft faced “barriers to entry.” But this does not mean no barriers to entry exist in the cell phone market in any sense. However, the most important barriers that exist right now are in place because of government regulations. Before the government tries to remove the speck from the market, it should first turn its attention to the plank created by its own policies.