Upfront cash and cashflow from Apple’s rumored iPhone in China deal
Washington Post’s Tameka Kee reports that Apple’s rumored 5 million iPhone sale to China Unicom will generate about $100 per unit in profit for Apple. Kee states that this is less than the estimated $400+ per unit that Apple now gets on its deal with AT&T. My reaction … “Um, yeah … no kidding” … We’re not on a level playing field in China. We need to get a toehold in China, with some 700 million wireless consumers, and then go from there. Besides this deal is far more profitable than the initial margin calculations suggest.
Let’s do a quick breakdown … iSuppli has a BOM estimate of $178.96 for the iPhone 3GS. The report from CBN states that Apple’s iPhone deal with China Unicom is for 5,000,000 iPhones purchased upfront for $1.46 billion. That’s $292 per unit less the $178.96 = $113. But there are other variables to consider. Apple will almost certainly NOT be providing China Unicom with the standard iPhone 3GS model. The special model for China will likely be the new model A1324 and it will likely cost less to build and distribute. If numerous reports are to be believed, this model will not include WiFi (a $5 to $10 savings per unit). Moreover, it is likely that China Unicom will cover virtually all shipping, marketing and distribution expenses associated with a China iPhone launch. So you can knock off another $18 to $25 per unit in expenses that Apple would normally incur.
Whether Apple will receive ongoing App Store and iTunes revenues under this China deal is a large question mark? Pure conjecture on my part, but I would not be surprised to learn that Apple has assisted China Unicom with the development of a China Unicom branded version of Apple’s App Store and iTunes. A bit more background and flat out guesswork …
Apple’s China iPhone negotiations have ostensibly been with potential carrier partners (first China Mobile and later China Unicom), but the watchful parent has always been in the background whispering instructions into the child’s ear. It is my view that China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) has had the final say on the iPhone deal terms. And it’s apparent that China’s MIIT has no intention of allowing Apple, or any handset manufacturer for that matter, to capture substantial wireless value added services (WVAS) revenues that China feels belong to its indigenous carriers. Consequently, to get any iPhone deal done in China, Apple may have been required to give up a large portion of revenues from the Apple iPhone platform (iTunes and App Store). That does not mean “no apps” or music for China iPhone owners. It just means a different platform, one with China Unicom’s brand. This will likely be a cloned version of Apple’s platform designed by Apple for China Unicom. I believe that Apple will be (shhhh … quietly) “cut in” for a certain percentage of WVAS revenues despite all of the posturing in the China tech press that “Apple will forego its revenue sharing model.” Since saving face is very important in China, I expect that Apple will not publicly disclose any assistance they may provide to China Unicom in developing their special iPhone WVAS platform, and nor will they publicly identify (break out) revenues from this WVAS partnership.
As with most Apple ventures, the iPhone deal in China will prove to be handsomely profitable and cash will continue to accrue to Apple’s bottom line … starting with a cool $1.46 billion up front!