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Summary:

Apple has sold nearly 100,000 iPhone 4 handsets through China Unicom in the first four days of device sales, while 200,000 total phones were pre-ordered. For 1.4 billion people, the smartphone transition in China is just beginning, but feature phone makers need to step it up.

iphone4

Apple has sold nearly 100,000 iPhone 4 handsets through China Unicom in the first four days of device sales, while 200,000 total phones were pre-ordered. With only half the advance orders fulfilled, supplies of Apple’s new smartphone are reportedly scarce in China, and the next round of inventory  is due to arrive by the end of this week, says ComputerWorld. By comparison, it took a full month before China Unicom sold 100,000 iPhone 3GS devices last year, indicating the iPhone 4 has a more appealing feature set and greater momentum in China.

As the most populous nation on the planet with 1.4 billion people, China is considered the next frontier of opportunity for the mobile phone industry, as well as many other markets. Although 200,000 pre-ordered handsets for the iPhone 4 debut sounds like a large number, it’s relatively small given that an estimated 10 million Chinese people are users of 3G data services. Essentially, Apple’s iPhone 4 is reaching just two percent of that audience.

Watching the overall smartphone market develop in China could be a pre-cursor  or proxy to the long-term success of companies like Nokia and Samsung, however, as both companies sell tens — if not hundreds — of millions of feature phones in China. A reported 547 million handsets have sold in China this year, but only 10.6 million of these were smartphones. Nokia in particular is attempting to strengthen its smartphone portfolio with new handsets and a revamped operating system because it knows that future growth isn’t in the feature phone market.

To be sure, China’s adoption of smartphones is far behind that of the U.S., where it’s expected that half of all consumers will own a smartphone by the end of 2011, if not sooner. But early signs of China’s smartphone opportunity maturity are appearing. This past May, Research In Motion announced a deal with China Telecom to offer the BlackBerry Storm in 16 provinces, showing it wants a piece of the pie. Sony Ericsson, Motorola, Lenovo and Dell have all announced or began executing plans to bring Google Android handsets to China as well, as each senses a gold mine of potential.

It will be interesting to watch the Chinese population move from feature phones to smartphones, and perhaps even more interesting to see which handset makers leverage the transition best. I’m not writing off any of the incumbents by any means, but their transition isn’t as guaranteed as one might think. Of course, for Apple, there’s no transition to be made as it doesn’t make a feature phone. It simply makes a smartphone that the Chinese are actually starting to buy in earnest.

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  1. This is ridiculous! China has WAY more people that we have here in the US, this isn’t news it’s just a spin on poor math and slow manufacturing for something that’s in high demand globally before one of the largest countries in the world has access to purchase it. You’re just clogging my feeds with this junk.

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  2. It would certainly seem that the adoption of the iPhone 4 has been larger – 100,000 in four days!

    It will be interesting to graph smartphone growth in China: as you mentioned, with 1.4 billion people populating its land, China could become a goldmine for whichever company truly succeeds in penetrating its mobile market.

    The likes of Nokia and Samsung will defiantly need to increase the number of smartphone models they offer consumers or home in on a couple of top class devices if they want to dominate over other companies, such as Apple.

    The mobile movement in China will make for fascinating watching…

    Thanks for such a thought provoking article – we look forward to watching the Chinese smartphone evolution!

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  3. It would certainly seem that the adoption of the iPhone 4 has been larger – 100,000 in four days!

    It will be interesting to graph smartphone growth in China: as you mentioned, with 1.4 billion people populating its land, China could become a goldmine for whichever company truly succeeds in penetrating its mobile market.

    The likes of Nokia and Samsung will defiantly need to increase the number of smartphone models they offer consumers or home in on a couple of top class devices if they want to dominate over other companies, such as Apple.

    The mobile movement in China will make for fascinating watching…

    Thanks for such a thought provoking article – we look forward to watching the Chinese smartphone evolution!

    Share
  4. I’d argue that the iPhone is simply a feature phone with apps… All of its so-called smart abilities are limited or outright locked while other so-called smart phones have limitless ability offering it’s users a wide array of customizations akin to your PC.

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  5. smartphones will explode once the price comes down in both hardware and data in the developing world

    for many it will be the only real way to access the internet

    touch screens will dominate just for the simple fact that handling different languages is a software not hardware issue

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  6. [...] until recently, hasn’t seen huge demand for Apple’s smartphone. Last month, however, Apple’s initial run of GSM iPhones sold out in China and the pre-order process was halted due to high [...]

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