A Week Can Make All the Difference...

A week ago I was getting ready to post an entry that started out like this:
According to a source Sinobyte says that the iPhone could be out in China as early as Spring 2008. As an aside, it looks like Sinobyte's going to be a great new blog for anyone interested in technology in Asia.
While Sinobyte still looks like its going to be a great blog, I, like many others, am left playing Monday morning quarterback as to why Apple and China Mobile have halted negotiations on bringing the iPhone to China. Last week, I was contemplating whether iTunes would open up a China store and if it could lead to people starting to pay for music through high-quality downloads and other new features (I know this is basically an impossibility, but its something to ponder on a slow day). This week, I'm left wondering whether I will be able to get my hand on an authorized release of an iPhone in China before the Olympics.

These negotiations dragged on for a long time with more than a few fits and starts and this was mainly caused by the fact that neither party really needed the other. Sure, China Mobile is going to lose a bit of money, but they are still the biggest player in the world's largest wireless market. The Apple juggernaut isn't going to be slowed down by lack of entry in China at this point, either.

From all the media reports that have come out so far, it seems like Apple overplayed a relatively weak hand and China Mobile called their bluff. Now Apple can choose to wait things out, go to China Unicom, or crawl back to the negotiating table. Waiting it out seems like the most likely option, as Apple has only slowly started entering the China laptop/mp3 market, though the iPhone could serve as their first real mainstream entry and draw people toward other Mac products, much like the iPod drew people in the US toward Apple laptops. Grey market iPhones will still be readily available, but rarely purchased due to the high price tag and the glut of reliable dealers selling them.

I'm most interested now in seeing if China Unicom can capitalize as this could be the big draw they need to attract customers and take a bite out of China Mobile, but on the other hand, doesn't this make Apple look like the spurned prom date who waited too long and is now desperate to say yes to anybody? This isn't like being in the US and switching from T-Mobile to Cingular AT&T, its more drastic as Unicom is, for all intents and purposes, only a CDMA network. My guess is that Apple will attempt to first wrap up negotiations in other major national markets as not to weaken their position first and then come back to China Mobile accepting a lower percentage of the profits.

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