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

China Unicom is continuing to trumpet the iPhone’s (s aapl) 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 (S goog) phones, on the other hand, are likely to cost less in China given that Dell (S 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.

6 Responses to “iPhone to Be China's Top-Selling Smartphone? Really?”

  1. For sure the iPhone will cream the competition– but not for China Unicom’s sake. The 3-4 million existing “jailbroke” iPhones will do the heavy lifting. Unicom crippled theirs by not allowing wifi AND charging too much.

  2. Constable Odo

    Look, China Unicom fought to get the iPhone, didn’t it? It’s a Chinese carrier run by native Chinese, right? If China Unicom didn’t think the iPhone would sell, then why would it purchase so many iPhones from Apple. Yes, it’s still a bit soon to state the iPhone will be a failure in China because a million people didn’t run out and buy one the first weekend or week or whatever. You’d think that even Foxconn would promote native Chinese to go out and buy the iPhone since it’s their factory that’s producing them. Maybe the Chinese are very practical people and don’t want to spend their money on things they don’t really need. There’s nothing wrong in thinking like that. If Apple can’t win over some of those tens of millions of Chinese cellphone users, then I guess that’s just the breaks. China Unicom better just get out there and start promoting iPhones like there’s no tomorrow now that they’re stuck with the inventory.

    I saw the Palm Pixi today and that’s seems like it would be a fine handset for the Chinese since the price is very reasonable, it doesn’t have WiFi and webOS is a nice touchscreen OS.

    • I am not sure about this – the ideal target for the iPhone is the single, the ones without obligations and responsibilities and there are millions of them.

      Don’t underestimate the iPhone it is an object of want and not need.

  3. This is a very un-Chinese way of looking at it. $3000 over a couple of years is a lot for a phone and phone service, sure… but it’s competitive to a computer with Broadband. The Chinese have accepted mobile devices as nearly equivalent to computers in the past and they will continue.