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China went from Apple’s fastest growing region to its biggest loser. Can it bounce back?

Apple sees iPhone 7 demand prompting a return to growth.

Apple Store Welcomes The World Earth Day Photo by VCG/VCG via Getty Images

Apple posted a steep 30 percent dip in China sales last quarter, but said it expects to return to year-over-year growth this quarter amid strong demand for its latest iPhone.

“The response to iPhone 7 and 7 Plus has been very positive,” CEO Tim Cook said on a conference call with analysts.

Cook said he feels confident enough in Apple’s business to forecast that sales for the December quarter will be up from a year earlier, but Cook added that “it’s very hard to gauge demand when you are selling everything you are making.”

While sales in China were down 17 percent in the full fiscal year, Cook pointed out that drop came after an 84 percent rise the year before, in which an outsize number of customers upgraded to an iPhone 6 or iPhone 6 Plus. Last year, the company saw “a more normal upgrade rate.”

Analysts had noted both Apple’s falling place in China’s smartphone ranks as well as the increased interest in the iPhone 7.

Counterpoint Technology Market Research said Tuesday that Apple’s share of the Chinese phone market dipped to 8.4 percent last quarter, down from more than 12 percent a year ago.

“Apple had a slow first nine months this year but the iPhone 7 series should help it regain lost marketshare, as the demand for iPhone 7 series is tracking better than iPhone 6s series according to our recent channel checks,” Counterpoint said in a statement.

The phone market as a whole has been slowing in China as it becomes largely a replacement market.

But Cook says even a less-quickly growing China is a big opportunity for Apple.

“We are very bullish on China,” Cook said. “We continue to see a middle class that is booming there. There might be sort of a ‘new normal’ in the economy, but a ‘new normal’ there is still a good growth rate.”

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