Apple clearly had China on its mind during its most important event of the year.

It might not be as explicit as last year, when they announced a special version of the iPhone exclusive to China. But this year’s product launch made it clear that Chinese users are still getting plenty of love and attention from the Californian giant.

In an event that’s as US-centric as it’s always been, Tim Cook played a video collage of users raving about how the Apple Watch changed their lives for the better. Everyone spoke in English -- except for one woman. And yup, you guessed it: She spoke Mandarin.

TipsWorks founder Yang Yang speaking on stage at Apple’s annual media event on September 10, 2019. (Picture: Apple)

Another Chinese face came up half an hour later when game developer Yang Yang took the stage. The founder of TipsWorks, a game studio under Shanghai-based Giant Network, demoed the gameplay for the studio’s first global title, Pascal’s Wager. Pascal’s Wager will be available to order exclusively on Apple’s App Store next month.

The iPhone 11 runs on Apple’s brand new A13 Bionic chipset with a powerful CPU and GPU that Apple is promoting as ideal for gaming. Year after year, Apple has used mobile games to show off the prowess of its latest chips, but the choice to feature a Chinese-made title is notable. It’s the first time a native Chinese game developer has appeared in Apple’s annual event, according to Giant Network.

Games, of course, are especially important for Apple in China. They contributed much to the App Store’s success in the past quarter, according to CFO Luca Maestri, as the company tries to pivot to making more of its money from services. And with more than 400 million mobile gamers, China is far and away the largest mobile gaming market in the world.

The pivot to services is also partly a reflection of the cutthroat competition in China’s smartphone market. The country is dominated by a legion of homegrown brands, with Huawei on top. Chinese netizens were quick to point out that during Tuesday’s event, Apple chose to benchmark its chip performance against Huawei’s Kirin 980 on the P30 Pro, along with Qualcomm chips on Samsung and Google models.

Apple brings up the competition. (Picture: Apple)

Chinese Apple users will see new features tailored to their needs when the iOS 13 update arrives on their devices next week. Maps, for instance, will come with Junction View. It’s designed to help drivers find the correct lane and avoid wrong turns, something Apple promotes as being useful for mainland China, known for having some pretty crowded and intricate road layouts.

Also tailored for Chinese users: A height-adjustable handwriting keyboard for users who like to draw Chinese characters with their finger. Many Chinese people prefer this to typing simply because typing in Chinese is harder than typing in English. For Cantonese speakers, Apple says it’s improved typing and emoji predictions.

Those living in Hong Kong can also look forward to a special upgrade. Octopus, a contactless payment card widely used for public transit in the city, is expected to arrive on Apple Pay soon. It will likely work similar to Japan’s Suica card, allowing users to pay at subway turnstiles by scanning their phone without needing to use Face ID or a passcode.