When will China become Apple's top market?

China's 'Apple fever' can grow further: Pro
China's 'Apple fever' can grow further: Pro

Greater China leapt past Europe to become Apple's second largest market in revenue terms during the January-March quarter, and analysts say it won't be long before the region surpasses the U.S. to become the tech giant's top market.

Apple's second-quarter revenue from Greater China – defined as mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan totaled $16.8 billion, a whopping 71 percent year-over-year jump. This tops the revenue of $12.2 billion out of Europe, and closes in on the $21.3 billion made from the Americas.

While the U.S. remained the Apple's most lucrative market, more iPhones were sold in Greater China than its home market during the quarter – an important milestone for the Cupertino-based company.

This was driven by gift-buying for Chinese New Year, demand from upgraders and the expansion of Apple's retail network in Greater China, say analysts. The tech giant currently has 21 stores in the region, and plans to almost double its presence by mid-2016.

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David Garrity, principal at GVA Research, doesn't see China's love for Apple dying off anytime soon.

"While the Lunar New Year certainly caused a seasonal spike in Greater China iPhone sales, I do expect Apple to experience continued momentum over the balance of the current fiscal year," Garrity told CNBC .

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Chinese mobile users are in the midst of a "strong upgrade cycle", he said."We are seeing a great move away from large, form factor phones [running on] Android operating systems to Apple."

In addition, the broadening of Apple's portfolio with the launch of the Apple Watch, should also boost the company's sales, he said.

At the current pace, China should become "Apple's largest geographic- end market" before the end of its next fiscal year, which runs through to September 2016, he said.

Tom Kang, research director at Counterpoint Research, expects China could overtake the U.S. as its biggest sales market even sooner – by the January-March quarter of 2016.

"By then, we'll see more Apple Watch revenue and there will probably be a more affordable version of the iPhone," he said.

Why Apple still has a firm grip on the China market
Why Apple still has a firm grip on the China market

Kang expects Apple will introduce a successor to the lower-cost iPhone 5C this year to target a wider customer base in emerging markets.

From 'afterthought' to 'priority'

With a growing proportion of Apple's revenues coming from China, it's clear that it has become a key priority for CEO Tim Cook, as opposed to an "afterthought", said Bryan Ma, vice president, client devices research group at IDC Asia/Pacific.

"If you look at the past years, China was kind of an afterthought for Apple compared with other mature markets. China would often be in the second or third batch of countries where products got launched," he said.

"Some of this was because of priorities, or regulatory issues. Clearly they have been able to address those and now China is a priority for them," he added, pointing to China's inclusion in the first round of countries for Apple Watch's global debut.

Ma says even if China becomes Apple's largest market, the U.S. will always remain important for the company.

"At the end of the day, the U.S. is still its home base. They launch a lot of their services there first – from movies and music to Apple Pay etc – because of copyright issues," he said.