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China Unicom's e-commerce partner has only been able to sell 5 iPhones since launch.  (Source: China Unicom)
To say that the iPhone is a flop in China is to put it mildly

China is arguably the world's biggest potential electronics market.  If you can make a product that's a big hit with Chinese consumers it's almost as big a deal as a hit product in the U.S. -- and China's buying power is expected to only grow even more in the near future.  Thus optimism was high when the iPhone finally launched in China.

However, in the time since, the iPhone has proved an epic flop in China even as Chinese telecoms try to defend their weak sales.  China Unicom, the phone's carrier only managed to sell 5,000 handsets in the phone's first few days, far less than at equivalent launches in the U.S., UK, France, and Germany.  While the telecom says it is satisfied with the phone's sales performance, the numbers are disappointing for a phone that has burned up international sales charts.

One major problem is price.  The phone is available in China for 6,999 yuan, or $1,024 without a contract, but can be purchased much cheaper in Hong Kong's so-called "grey market".  The grey market cost in Hong Kong is approximately $800.  Sales were also hindered by the exclusion of Wi-Fi from the phone, following China's ban on the standard, which it was trying to replace with its own standard.  Since May China has begun reallowing Wi-Fi, but new Wi-Fi-ready models still aren't available yet in China.

The epic failure of the phone in terms of sales is epitomized by the sales figures just released by, the nation's leading e-tailer and only firm besides China Unicom authorized to sell iPhones inside China.  According to IDG News Service, since the phone launched on the site on November 22, only two 8 GB models were sold, three 16 GB, and no 32 GB models.  That's right -- in an increasingly prosperous and tech-hungry nation of over 1 billion, the country's largest E-Tailer has only been able to sell 5 iPhones.

In its report IDG says that difficulties with the app store may also be partially to blame for the phone's dismal sales.  Explains the report, "Credit cards are increasingly common in China, but their holders rarely use them to make small payments via mobile phone, local consultancy Analysys International said in a research note.  Credit card penetration also remains low among young people of the sort that would like the App Store, it said. Many Chinese make payments via mobile phone but do so with prepaid cards sold by local carriers. The App Store will need to add new payment options and more localized content to win more users in China."

China Unicom still hasn't given up on the struggling phone.  The company just launched 3G services last month and currently has around 1 million total subscribers.  The company hopes that the iPhone will help drive over 1 million new subscribers per month to the next-generation network service.  Currently the company has over 150 million subscribers on its older networks.  The company is aiming for 10 percent of its 3G subscriptions to be iPhones by three years from now.

In South Korea the iPhone enjoyed a much more enthusiastic launch last week with 60,000 online orders.  That number looks especially pretty when compared to the Chinese total of 5 orders.

Earlier this year, before the launch of the phone, the iPhone made headlines in China for a far different reason.  An employee at Foxconn, a hardware partner of Apple's, reportedly was beaten and tormented by company security officers after loosing a prototype of a next-generation iPhone.  After the ordeal the employee committed suicide.  The company has since paid the family of the victim $52,000 and dismissed several employees.

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Wait, wait, wait...
By Motoman on 12/3/2009 2:07:02 PM , Rating: 5're telling me that there's a whole country of people who won't spend a ludicrous amount of money on a shiny new gadget that lacks obvious features just so they can gleefully display their "uniqueness" by doing the same thing as everyone else?

I don't get it. Don't they understand that they're supposed to buy anything Apple allows them to buy without question? Ridiculously high prices and subpar features are irrelevant! It's an iPhone! Buy it!

RE: Wait, wait, wait...
By invidious on 12/3/2009 2:26:55 PM , Rating: 2
It's so much cooler to confirm to the nonconformists anyway.

RE: Wait, wait, wait...
By QueBert on 12/3/2009 3:26:24 PM , Rating: 1
I'm curious what "obvious features" iPhones still lack? I can do much more on my iPhone than I can on my WM phone. And Windows Mobile has been around how many more years than the iPhone? And what features are "sub par" I'm not an Apple fan boy, but my iPhone is by far my favorite phone ever. And I've owned probably 20 different cell phones over the year. Sounds like you hate Apple because right now they're the cool, in company. Yet you're bash people who buy Apple products because hating on Apple is the cool, in thing to do.

How ironic...

RE: Wait, wait, wait...
By DLeRium on 12/3/2009 4:39:25 PM , Rating: 2
multi task? HAR HAR HAR...

And seriously half the WinMo phones released in the US are trash. HTC is the real standard.

RE: Wait, wait, wait...
By Motoman on 12/3/2009 7:53:03 PM , Rating: 3
I'm curious what "obvious features" iPhones still lack?

For one thing, Wi-Fi. At least in the official Chinese version, as noted in the article. And I suppose it's OK that Apple refused to give it's customers the obvious function of cut and paste...since eventually they deigned it appropriate to put it in there?

As for "sub par" features, one example that would cause me to never even consider an iPhone is the on-screen's vastly inferior to real keyboard. And how about not being able to run Flash? Any web "browser" that can't handle a flash animation is, most certainly, a sub-par browser.

And for the record, I hate Apple not because they're "cool" - I hate them because like Bose and Monster Cable they fleece uniformed consumers into paying exorbitant amounts of money for unremarkable, if not wildly inferior, products.

RE: Wait, wait, wait...
By kmmatney on 12/4/2009 2:30:06 AM , Rating: 2
The onscreen keyboard is not too bad - and I like it better than the Droid's flat keyboard. Like the poster you responded too, I laugh when I see all these posts about features that the iPhones "lacks". I take it not many of the iHaters here have actually used an Iphone much? My iPhone was given to me by my workplace, and has been much more efficient for us compared to blackberries and other WinMo phones we have used before. The iPhone doesn't cost us anymore than other smartphones, yet allows us to get a lot more work done. Its a no brainer to buy the iPhone.

The obvious problem is China (besides the lack of Wifi, which is pretty bad) is that you have to buy an unlocked phone at a crazy high price. I would never buy that, and that's coming from a very happy iPhone user.

RE: Wait, wait, wait...
By Motoman on 12/4/2009 11:21:34 AM , Rating: 2
Your preference of the onscreen keyboard is, at best, your personal opinion. I, and virtually everyone I know, vastly prefers a real keyboard to any onscreen implementation.

And I call total BS on your claim that iPhones make you more efficient than Blackberries or anything else.

I work for a technology company...who's product revolves around cellular technology, including cell phones, smart phones, and purpose-built commercial devices.

There is exactly one person in our entire company with an iPhone. And everyone else has seen it and played with it. And everyone else has stuck with their Blackberry.

It's a no brainer not to buy an iPhone.

RE: Wait, wait, wait...
By Motoman on 12/4/2009 1:14:05 PM , Rating: 2
Oh, and for the record I guess I'll add that I was *this* close to buying a Droid. Until I wised up and went to a Verizon store to put my hands on it. The keyboard is awful...probably the worst "real" keyboard I've ever tried to use. Better than onscreen, I guess - but it totally killed the deal for me. I practically walked into the store with my credit card outstretched ready to slide it through their reader...

RE: Wait, wait, wait...
By munky on 12/4/2009 11:15:36 AM , Rating: 2
What's ironic is Apple touting third-party apps as an iphone feature. Also they just recently started supporting cool new features other phones have had for years, like stereo BT and MMS. Lol, if Apple ran the world, we'd still be searching for the wheel. You can keep your "coolness" and dumbed-down interface, and I'll take a phone with real substance, and a real keyboard.

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