Apple looks to be on track for an iPhone 5 launch in China just two months after its initial release in the US. According to a report cited by MacRumors, China Telecom Chairman Wang Xiaochu expects the iPhone 5 to be approved by the government in early December.
The market for mobile devices in China is expansive and includes the world's largest carrier, China Mobile with 665 million subscribers. Grey market iPhone 5 units imported from other countries are already in high demand. The iPhone 4 rapidly sold out after its launch in China during September 2010.
Apple opened an online store in mainland China this week and it took only 10 hours to sell out of their entire inventory of iPhone 4 units. The country has four Apple Stores and iPhone buyers have waited in long lines since the release of the device in September. iPhone buyers were clearly enthusiastic about purchasing the phone online, although some reports have indicated many of the phones may have gone to scalpers who will resell for a profit.
iPhones have been in China for some time on the grey market, with millions imported from other countries. There's also a booming market in counterfeit and iPhone look-alike mobile devices as well. Despite this, the official product had no problem selling online or at retail stores, with over a quarter million units sold on launch day at the end of September.
China Unicom was forced to stop taking iPhone 4 pre-orders after launch day saw 60,000 units sold and over 200,000 pre-orders. iPhone 4 inventory was wiped out shortly after Apple made the iPhone 4 available on September 25 through exclusive Chinese wireless carrier China Unicom and the Apple Store.
Shanghai and Beijing saw the opening of two new Apple retail stores on the same day. Over 1,000 people lined up outside the Beijing store up to two days in advance hoping to get their hands on an iPhone 4 before anyone else. The Chinese iPhone 4 launch came just three months after the device was launched in the US.
Chinese news source Caixin reports that China Unicom will indeed offer the iPhone 4 for sale on September 16. This is Apple's second iPhone release in China in under a year. October of 2009 saw the launch of a special iPhone 3GS model that shipped without Wi-Fi functionality due to Chinese regulations. The iPhone 4 slated for China Unicom's network this fall is said to have Wi-Fi.
Grey market iPhones are popular in China, with millions of units in operation. China Unicom allows users with any iPhone that supports its network to purchase data plans. The lack of Wi-Fi and high prices may have kept iPhone 3GS sales lower than expected. iPhones imported from other countries can sell for half the price.
Turns out you can't download that Dalai Lama iPhone app if you live on mainland China. Interested in Rebiya Kadeer, the exiled leader of China's Uighur minority? If you live in China don't look for any apps on your iPhone that mention that person, either.
You won't find them because Apple is likely complying to local laws banning specific political or religious beliefs in the Chinese version of its App Store. The Chinese government is infamous for its "great firewall" and routinely blocks large portions of the Internet with which the governing party disagrees.
The deal was a long time coming but the iPhone has now officially been launched by Apple in China. By some estimates there are 2 million grey market iPhones in operation within the country already.
High prices and the lack of Wi-Fi on Chinese models may have shortened lines. The 32GB iPhone is retailing for the equivalent of $1,025 with no service contract.
There's an interesting article featured on Wired right now that puts some hard numbers up against a question many of us have been asking since Apple broke down talks with China Mobile late in 2007. That question, is simply, what the #$%! was Apple thinking? China Mobile is not only the largest wireless communications provider in China, it is the largest wireless communications provider in the world.
Wired's article offers up some interesting statistics, a few of which are: