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Chinese Apple addicts won't be selling their kidneys for an iPhone 7 anytime soon

A customer uses her smartphone at an Apple store in Shanghai.
Johannes Eisele | AFP | Getty Images
A customer uses her smartphone at an Apple store in Shanghai.

Unless Apple can step up the pace on innovation, Chinese tech addicts aren't going to be selling their kidneys for one of the U.S. giant's products anytime soon.

Usually, when one of Apple's high-profile product launches approach, there are plenty of comments from Chinese citizens about "kidney-selling time," as they jokingly express their love for the sleek designs, even despite of their relatively high price — "I'm willing to sell my kidney to buy this iPhone!"

Apple's latest launch - of the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 plus, plus the AirPod wireless headphones and an updated Apple Watch - still prompted plenty of kidney jokes. But the response was noticeably less enthusiastic than previous, amid complaints that the new smartphones weren't innovative and eye-catching enough to impress Chinese buyers.

For one, a dual-camera feature isn't new in China.

South Korea's LG and Taiwan's HTC launched dual-camera smartphones that allowed users to take 3-D video and photos as far back as 2011, but failed to make much of a dent in the market In 2014, HTC tried again with the HTC One M8, which also featured a dual-lens camera, while LG also launched another dual-lens LG G5, with a main, 16-megapixel sensor and a second, wide-angle 8-megapixel sensor.

Chinese smartphone maker Huawei, meanwhile, launched the P9 in April 2016 in partnership with storied camera-maker Leica - a team that caught the public's imagination and is expected to continue with the launch of the Huawei Mate 9 phablet by the end of this year.

"Apple is now a follower instead of a innovator," wrote one Weibo user named Yubo544. "Speaking of dropping analog headphone jacks, LeEco's Le 2 smartphone has already done that."

As local brands becoming increasingly innovative, as well as affordable, are now posing a real threat for Apple's market share in China.

Apple's third quarter earnings showed a 33 percent year-on-year drop in Chinese sales to $8.8 billion, although CEO Tim Cook said he remained very optimistic about the long-term opportunities in the mainland.

According to research firm Strategy Analytics, by the second quarter of 2016, Apple's share of the Chinese market had fallen to 6.7%, down from 9.2 percent on-year, making it China's fifth-largest smartphone brand, behind Huawei, OPPO, Vivo and Xiaomi.

It remains to be seen whether Apple's iPhone 7 series can win some hearts back, but one thing is clear — the tech giant must work harder to persuade Chinese buyers to sell their "kidneys".