Apple’s stalled negotiations with China Mobile may have delayed the iPhone’s official debut in China, but perhaps millions have already been sold by smugglers, some for more than $600. From the New York Times:
These unofficial distribution networks help explain a mystery that analysts who follow Apple have been pondering: why is there a large gap between the number of iPhones that Apple says it sold last year, about 3.7 million, and the 2.3 million that are actually registered on the networks of its wireless partners in the United States and Europe.
Chinese sellers of iPhones say they typically get the phones from suppliers who buy them in the United States, then have them shipped or brought to China by airline passengers.
Often, they say, the phones are given to members of Chinese tourist groups or Chinese airline flight attendants, who are typically paid a commission of about $30 for every phone they deliver.
With unlocking software, users of black market phones can sign up with any phone company and install Chinese language programs. Apple’s iPhone users are required to sign up with one phone carrier — AT&T in the United States. Allowing users to sign with any carrier they choose could actually increase sales, according to some analysts.
Smuggled phones, available at most electronic stores in big citiies, are still a source of revenue for Apple.
“I love all of Apple’s products,” said a 27-year-old Beijing engineer named Chen Chen who found his iPhone through a bulletin board Web site. “I bought mine for $625 last October, and the seller helped me unlock it. Reading and sending Chinese messages is no problem.”