iPhone to Be China's Top-Selling Smartphone? Really?

China Unicom is continuing to trumpet the iPhone’s prospects in China — despite widespread conviction that it’s too expensive there. As Stacey recently noted, Daniel Amir, director and senior research analyst of semiconductors at Lazard Capital Markets, has cited China Unicom officials as saying they’d sold some 30,000 iPhones in the country since its launch there on Oct. 30.

And the company’s chairman, Chang Xiaobing, says he expects the device to become the best-selling smartphone in the country, Bloomberg is reporting. So should we buy all this iPhone love from China Unicom?

“We’re very confident about the market position of the iPhone,” Bloomberg quotes Chang as saying. The report also quotes IDC analyst Aloysius Choong, who said that “Unicom must lower its prices if it wants to access the mass market for the iPhone.”

That last fact is likely to be true. In China, a 32GB iPhone 3GS sold at launch for 6,999 yuan ($1,024) without a service contract; add that in and over two years a Chinese subscriber will pay some $3,000. Android phones, on the other hand, are likely to cost less in China given that Dell and other players providing them aren’t smartphone titans, and Android phones could play into pre-existing preferences for open source platforms that exist there.

China Unicom’s Chang is also denying that users will choose iPhones sold on the gray market, according to Bloomberg. Sales of gray market phones “won’t be very significant,” he claims, even though we just reported on iSuppli’s numbers showing that gray market phones are moving briskly in China.

Come on now. These pronouncements from China Unicom sound like little more than PR spin. There are many valid questions to be asked about the iPhone’s future in China. After all, the device will probably be hindered from using certain kinds of technology (it will get Wi-Fi, but only following a battle involving China’s government), there won’t be the same freedom to choose applications as there is elsewhere, and it’s very expensive relative to Chinese salaries.  Only  a few short weeks after the iPhone’s Chinese launch, it’s just too early to read the tea leaves.

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