October 30, 2009 Two years after its launch in the United States, the iPhone is finally going on sale in China, giving Apple a chance to reach the world’s largest market.
A number of regulatory hurdles have previously blocked Apple’s access to China, including restrictions on Wi-Fi functionality. Once those problems are resolved, Apple is offering the iPhone 3GS to 1.3 billion people in the country, most of whom still don’t have smartphones.
The first iPhone goes on sale in China
iPhones have been unofficially available in China since the beginning of the life of this product. By 2008, a year after the original iPhone launch, BusinessWeek reported that 800,000 to 1 million iPhones disappeared after a legitimate purchase. Later, rumors claimed that 400,000 of these iPhones, unlocked through hacks, worked on local networks in China.
However, October 2009 was the first time that Apple’s smartphone became easily available from the local Chinese operator (Unicom). The device costs up to 6,999 yuan ($ 1,025) for the premium 32GB iPhone 3GS. That price was slightly higher than a typical iPhone on the black market at the time.
Legal iPhones had another drawback: a lack of Wi-Fi functionality. Beijing, wanting to promote a competitive Chinese system, has banned the technology. The country relaxed its stance in May 2009, after Apple began producing custom iPhones – without Wi-Fi – for the Chinese market. (Later Chinese iPhone models included technology.)
As a result, iPhone sales in China did not become a major change for Apple until a few years later, when Cupertino finally signed a contract with China Mobile. That led the iPhone to the world’s largest operator.
Apple and the Chinese market
Today, despite some reservations, Apple is still incredibly eager to embrace the Chinese market, illustrating Apple’s astonishingly rapid expansion of retail facilities in the country. China is now Apple’s leading revenue market in the App Store. Apple CEO Tim Cook said that the company is designing new products especially keeping in mind the Chinese audience.
As 2021 ends, Apple faces new challenges in China. The trade war that erupted during the reign of President Donald Trump seems to have cooled. But tensions remain even now as President Joe Biden’s administration decides. Concerns over Apple’s response to Chinese censorship and accusations of forced labor in Chinese factories remain on the headlines.
As a result, Cupertino continues to make efforts to diversify its supply chain, with more production in India, Vietnam and other countries.
However, Apple continues to court Chinese business for a good reason. There remains a gigantic market (as well as productive power). And Apple probably thinks it can function as a “force for good” in an authoritarian country.
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