Apple’s Stealth China Mobile Plan?

BusinessWeek has more on the iPhone’s long-awaited entry into the China market after Apple announced a deal with China Unicom:

Despite ongoing talk about possible tie-up with the mother of all cellular carriers, China Mobile, equity research firm Wedge Partners believes Apple may have found a new way to sell iPhones to some of the carrier’s half-a-billion subscribers. Wedge’s managing principal, Matt Mathison, thinks Apple will ink a deal with a large cell-phone retailer called Di Xing Tong, which owns hundreds of storefronts in China. The chain is owned by Foxconn, the massive contract manufacturer that builds so many of Apple’s products.

This could be a huge deal, says Mathison. After two years of on-again, off-again talks with Apple, China Mobile seems to have gone its own way. It has announced its own smart phone operating system platform, dubbed Ophone, and phones based on the platform will go on sale this month. But if Apple gets this retail presence, Chinese consumers would be able to buy phones and unlock them for use on China Mobile’s network. Mathison believes Apple could sell as many iPhones through this retail channel in 2010 as it will through its recently announced deal with China Unicom, which he says has a poor network and poor reputation with consumers

See also “China Mobile Intros ‘Ophones,’ Still Courting Apple” from ChannelWeb. PCWorld also reports on new app stores being opened by China’s mobile carriers in an effort to compete with the iPhone:

China Mobile has launched an application download store, and rivals China Telecom and China Unicom are developing them, sources said Wednesday.

China licensed the three state-owned carriers to build networks based on different 3G standards early this year. The carriers have since worked to match each other’s expansion of 3G handset offerings and other services as they race to win users.

The application stores a major part of their efforts, which have sped up in recent weeks. But the download stores confront a range of obstacles that could dampen their appeal to users. Those include billing issues, a lack of user familiarity and the availability of pirated applications online, said Shi Weixing, founder of HandCN and 9thq, two Chinese companies that make mobile applications.


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