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Summary:

It’s only been open for two weeks, but according to recently released sales figures from a store on a major digital retailer in China, the iPhone isn’t doing that great — at least, not through official channels. China Unicom has sold only five iPhones through large […]

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It’s only been open for two weeks, but according to recently released sales figures from a store on a major digital retailer in China, the iPhone isn’t doing that great — at least, not through official channels. China Unicom has sold only five iPhones through large retail site Taobao.com so far, according to PC World.

China Unicom also sells the device through its own site, so the numbers are far from final, but they do probably at least hint at how the iPhone is faring in official outlets. Taobao.com’s iPhone sales also started later than the network operator’s, a couple of weeks after the iPhone’s official launch at the end of October.

The five iPhones sold include two 8GB models, and three 16GB devices. Taobao.com is the most frequented online retail site in China, and a go-to destination especially for electronics like cell phones and computers, so that’s a little like similar numbers being posted for iPhone sales at Amazon.com, were it offered there.

The problem is that China is already flooded with iPhones, despite how long it took Apple to come to an agreement with an official service provider for the device. Not only that, but unofficially unlocked devices brought in from other countries also boast Wi-Fi, something which Apple had to agree to remove from its production run for China at the behest of China Unicom in order to engineer a distribution deal.

There’s also the matter of price, which is no small concern. A 16GB iPhone 3GS costs around 5700 yuan (about $834) and the 32GB model will run you 6,999 yuan. It’s much cheaper in most cases to pick up an imported, unlocked international version. Pricing issues and the lack of Wi-Fi could account for why China Unicom itself reported only 5,000 sales in the first few days, a dismal number when compared with international launch figures.

It may seem like a loss for both China Unicom and Apple, but really, it sends a clear message to Apple’s other business partners going forward: If you let us do things our way, and don’t make any extraordinary demands that drag out the negotiation process and impede our ability to offer consumers exactly what we already know they want, everyone wins. If not, customers will seek other solutions.

As Apple looks to expand the availability of the iPhone, opening up the device to more and more carriers worldwide, it’s an important message to send, and best of all, the consumer wins thanks to reduced control residing in the hands of telcos, and more with hardware and software makers that actually care about user experience quality control.

  1. If you’re already forking over that much cash for a crippled device, you may as well just find it on eBay or the black market. Heck, it’s probably cheaper on eBay.

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  2. Product isn’t selling well on a 2 week old site that few probably even know about?

    This is news?

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    1. “Taobao.com is the most frequented online retail site in China, and a go-to destination especially for electronics like cell phones and computers, so that’s a little like similar numbers being posted for iPhone sales at Amazon.com, were they to offer it.”

      Did you even bother to read the article?

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    2. So I just finished a conversation with one of my friends in China. He and his friends have iphones and other of the latest electronics.

      I asked him for his take on Taobao.com and he said he had never visited the site before I asked him about it.

      Apparently it’s not the end all, be all that some people claim it to be.

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  3. They’ll get there. iPhone adoption in Japan had been slow, but it seems to have really accelerated since the 3GS came out. That’s a real bummer that Wifi is disabled, though, since so many establishments in China sport free Wifi…

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  4. very enlightening blog…keep sharing :)

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  5. The reason may be that you can buy iPhones on every corner in China since launch. Thus, there is absolutely no reason to buy an iPhone from China Unicom, whoever that may be, anyway.

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  6. [...] ser que todo es mucho peor de lo que pensábamos, pues la compañía telefónica, China Unicom, sólo ha vendido cinco iPhones en las últimas dos semanas en la mayor tienda de retail de ese país. Analizando este panorama, la gente de Forbes cree [...]

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  7. Don’t blame telcos. They need infrastructure to run. If there’s no infrastructure, there’s little use of your iPhone.

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  8. 5 Phones?? What a big joke for the day for them.

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  9. Living next to China it is easy to see why the Chinese are opting for ‘gray’ market product. You will never sell crippled devices to this intelligent, young, dynamic and technical savvy market.

    The country in which I reside had Apple cell phones in less than two weeks after their release with many stores announcing their arrival with huge signs emblazoned outside the stores.

    India is another country where thousands of ‘gray’ phones originate from.

    Long live free access!

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  10. [...] Regardless of what’s coming, Q3 sales of 10 million is a huge win for Cupertino. Looking at recent developments, its easy to spot the source of this late-game success. Apple has opened up sales of its device to many more carriers at the international level, expanding into new territory in the UK, Canada and France, to name a few. It’s also finally gained official access to the massive Chinese market, which paves the way for a lot of potential success, despite early setbacks. [...]

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