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Apple's big iPhones score record sales in China, Japan, and South Korea

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Apple’s decision to bump up the iPhone's screen size for the 6 and 6 Plus is paying off in Asian markets. Sales in Japan, China, and South Korea are all at record highs, claims a new report from Counterpoint Research, and Apple is now challenging the region’s brands on their home turf.

"No foreign brand has gone beyond the 20 percent market share mark in South korea before."

In South Korea, Samsung’s home territory, Apple claimed 33 percent of the market last November, more than doubling the 15 percent share it held prior to the launch of the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus. This puts it well ahead of South Korean brand LG (14 percent) and not far behind Samsung itself, whose market share slipped from 60 percent to 46 percent.

"No foreign brand has gone beyond the 20 percent market share mark in the history of Korea’s smartphone industry," said Counterpoint mobile analyst Tom Kang in a press statement. "It has always been dominated by the global smartphone leader, Samsung. But iPhone 6 and 6 Plus have made a difference here, denting the competition’s phablet sales." It's interesting to note also that Samsung's share of the market has slipped by 14 points while Apple's is up by 18 — an overlap that implies that Apple is actively taking sales off Samsung. A similar story is playing out in Japan, where Apple's market share jumped from the high teens in May last year to 51 percent in November. At the same time, domestic companies' market shares fell, with Sony — the number two brand — dropping from 30 percent in July to 17 percent in November.

Smartphone market share in South Korea between May and November 2014.

Apple is even making gains in China, growing sales by 45 percent year on year to take third place in the country with 12 percent of total smartphone sales. Local firms Xiaomi and Lenovo took first and second place, respectively, with 18 percent and 13 percent of the market. Counterpoint’s Neil Shah notes that in China the iPhone 6 accounted for more than two-thirds of Apple’s iPhone sales, but that as yet unreleased figures for December and the first quarter of 2015 would likely show a greater proportion of 6 Plus sales. "But with the launch of Xiaomi's Note & Note Pro it is going to be a fierce battle in the premium segment," said Shah, adding that things look especially bad for Samsung, which is now being "attacked from both ends."