Blog Post

White iPhone Launch Notes: Lines in China, Ship Times Slip, Thickness

Apple finally launched the white iPhone 4 yesterday, and despite being just a new look for a phone that’s nearly a year old (in a market where the vast majority of smartphone users feel obsolescence sneaks up quick), it made quite the splash. Some things aren’t exactly the same, either: the iPhone (s aapl) gained a little girth when it went white.

As mentioned yesterday, the white iPhone 4 did generate some lines, especially in Asia. In Beijing, Hong Kong, and Shanghai, lines were very long, reaching into the hundreds. Of the few reports of lines at North American locations, the longest seems to have reached around 10 people. It’s worth noting that the black iPhone 4 went on sale in China in September 2010, while in the U.S., it has been available since June. Conceivably, that could mean that U.S. buyers had more time to give in and buy the black iPhone rather than wait for the white model.

But it’s also a sign that Apple’s priorities may soon shift, as China and other emerging markets represent the largest potential growth markets for the company. Apple saw huge growth for the iPhone in China last quarter, and Strategy Analytics just released a report showing Apple has passed ZTE Corp. to become the world’s largest handset maker as measured by shipments, for the first calendar quarter of 2011. ZTE is a Chinese phone maker, and arguably Apple’s biggest competition in the Chinese market.

The white iPhone definitely appears to be selling well in at least a few markets other than China, too, since ship times for the device have slipped to five business days from three to five days in some international stores, such as those in Italy, the U.K., France and Spain. Apple typically prioritizes the U.S. when it comes to device shipments, so slipping ship times don’t necessarily indicate that those countries are the ones experiencing the strongest sales.

Finally, users who’ve had the chance to compare the white and black iPhones side-by-side have noted that the white version is just a hair thicker than the black one: 0.2 mm thicker, to be exact. It makes Apple’s marketing claim that the iPhone 4 is “the world’s thinnest smartphone” just a little less accurate than it had recently become. No word on what’s behind the extra girth, as Apple’s website still lists the official specs for both at the same at 0.37 inches. It could be that the extra UV protection the white paint requires accounts for some additional thickness. Reports so far suggest that the extra thickness isn’t significantly affecting the fit of most cases, but you should double-check before you buy one just to make sure.

The white iPhone 4 may be just a color change for a 10-month old device, but its reception provides a hint at the future of a possible shift in Apple’s primary buying public, and its production demonstrates Apple’s continued dedication to getting product design right prior to release. In the end, nobody can pull off new paint on an old barn quite like Apple.