updated 10:10 am EDT, Fri October 30, 2009
Event marks culmination of long negotiations
Apple has officially launched the iPhone in China to relatively warm response, at least in Beijing, reports say. The device became available at 6:30PM local time on Friday, first through a China Unicom flagship store after a ceremony attended by Apple VP Greg Joswiak. Although there were no overnight lines as at some launches, just under 300 people are said to waited in front of the store for a chance to buy the product.
Less fanfare is said to have accompanied the launch at Apple's Sanlitun-area retail store, though the company did run video on a large outdoor screen, and project images along a store wall. Cold weather is said to have prompted many people to buy hot drinks and blankets as they waited for sales to begin. When asked why they chose the Apple Store instead of a Unicom outlet, customers said they hoped for better service.
Actual unit sales are expected to be relatively modest in China, not only due to the low incomes of many people but unusually high prices, which can run as much as 6,999 yuan ($1,025) for a contract-free 32GB iPhone 3GS. There are also over 1.5 million gray-market iPhones in the country, which unlike official ones are cheaper and have the benefit of a Wi-Fi receiver. Unicom has responded by offering an amnesty program, which is already said to have attracted over a million iPhone 3G subscribers.
Apple has been working on bringing the iPhone to China for over a year, but has been stymied by numerous obstacles. Chinese law forced the removal of Wi-Fi, and local carriers are said to have objected to Apple demands for things like revenue sharing or a block on carrier-controlled app stores. Because of the size of the Chinese market however, Apple is believed to have been forced to offer at least mild concessions.