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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.

picture-342Let’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

Li Yizhong - MIIT VM

Li Yizhong - MIIT VM

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). picture-2That 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!

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picture-342China website Sina.com.cn has posted several photos (below) of the rumored new iPhone model for China. Sina.com.cn was apparently “motivated” to later alter (blur-out) both the model number and the WCDMA (China Unicom’s 3G network) inscription showing on the backside. The use of simplified Chinese inscriptions on the iPhone backside is interesting as the iPhone model for Hong Kong uses traditional Chinese (more complex characters). Simplified Chinese is more widely used in mainland China.

Owen Fletcher at IDG News Service points out one other interesting item showing in the photos:

“The iPhone in the pictures also carries China’s ‘Environmental Protection Use Period’ mark, which indicates the number of years of normal operation during which hazardous or toxic substances included in the product will not leak or change in a way that harms the environment or human health. In the case of the iPhone pictured that length of time is 10 years.”

Are these actual photos of the iPhone code-named “Model 90” (a.k.a. A1324rumored to be in production in at Foxconn’s factory in Shenzhen? Or are these just photoshop fakes?  I’ll leave it to the Photoshop experts to dissect.

2

The second set of photos (below) shows China Unicom’s “中国联通” carrier signal in the top left hand corner. The battery percentage meter reveals it is a 16GB 3GS model. NOTE: The front face iPhone photos do not necessarily prove anything, as there are many iPhones (including iPhone 3GS) in China that are now in test mode on China Unicom’s WCDMA 3G network.

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2046528Apple’s iPhone managed to land in Hong Kong last year, but the drive across the Kowloon Toll Road to China is taking a bit longer. Antsy youngsters (media, investors and analysts) in the back seat want to know one thing… “Are we there yet Uncle Tim (Cook)?” …

Apple COO Tim Cook: “Um, not quite yet. The view is a bit hazy, but that sorta looks like Beijing. (Pointing East) See over there … It’s just over the horizon.”

Picture 2Okay, I took some poetic license. Tim Cook chooses his words carefully. During Apple’s (AAPL) recent Q3’09 earnings call, Broadpoint.Amtech analyst Brian Marshall asked: “Tim, any update on the iPhone in China?”

Cook’s response: “Nothing to add to date specifically, other than it continues to be a priority project and we hope to be there within a year.” (i.e. it could be tomorrow … or it could be 12 months from now)

Okay… Before a tantrum breaks out in the back-seat, let’s get back to the kids’ most urgent question… When?

Picture 1Just my super wild-ass guess, but I’m now looking for a deal announcement sometime in late Summer ’09 and an iPhone launch in the Fall of ‘09. What’s the basis for this SWAG?  Mostly a game of clue by the bumbling Inspector Clouseau (that would be Moi’ who previously predicted we’d be launched by now):

apple_unicomClue 1: Multiple different reports and sources lead me to believe that Apple’s negotiations with China Unicom were successfully concluded in late Spring 2009. You can chalk up the delay in a formal deal announcement to logistics (e.g. testing, licensing process, WCDMA network rollout and new model iPhone build) and perhaps some China telecom industry politics.

Clue 2: Press reports along with some documentary evidence, suggests that a new model iPhone was submitted to China’s authorities for mandatory “testing” sometime in late Spring. The MIIT’s testing process can take several months to complete. Foot-dragging by the MIIT might help China’s carriers to deploy their own Android-based phones + new WVAS + new mobile operating systems before iPhone is launched.

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crystal-liu-pic-0014Clue 3: Multiple reports that Foxconn (Hon Hai Precision) will soon begin full production of a custom iPhone for China. This model will not have WiFi (due to WAPI/WiFi issues) but will likely come preloaded with several “for China” apps. Foxconn has given this iPhone a code name – “Model 90.” There is a very high probability that Model 90 is the same “yet to be unveiled” iPhone model (A1324) that China granted (in early June) a Radio Transmission Equipment Type Approval Certificate (RTETAC). This new iPhone is still pending the mission-critical Network Access License (NAL).

Clue 4: Initial production of Model 90 was confirmed in a tragic and highly unusual fashion – the July 16 suicide of a Foxconn worker charged with the responsibility of shipping 16 “Model 90” prototypes to Apple. One of the “Model 90” prototypes went missing (circa July 10) and this led to a very unfortunate chain of events that ended quite tragically. Many other bloggers and journalists have weighed in on this story, so I won’t delve into it any further here.

3609103536_3e314978d8Clue 5: Another reason why an iPhone launch might need to be pushed to Fall of ’09 is “manufacturing constraints.” That’s analyst speak for they can’t build ‘em fast enough to meet robust demand. Apple’s manufacturing partner, Foxconn (Hon Hai Precision) is now committing substantial resources to build iPhone 3GS, and this may take priority over production lines for the new model for China.

Clue 6: While China Unicom’s WCDMA 3G network was successfully launched on May 17, it will take several months before service is fully deployed. China Unicom rolled out the first 55 cities on May 17. On June 30, China Unicom announced the rollout to an additional 44 cities. All major cities should be lit-up by September/October with blanket WCDMA 3G coverage by year-end (284 cities).

Clue 7: China Mobile and China Unicom will launch their first proprietary Android-based phones (OPhones/UPhones respectively) + their new mobile OS and enhanced wireless value-added services (WVAS) circa August/September ‘09. China’s carriers may want to have their own “answer to iPhone” ready by the time the MIIT grants iPhone its NAL. In case you’re wondering … yes, China Unicom will be in “coop-it-ition” (cooperation + competition) with Apple. They want iPhone to “go huge” to bring in new subscribers, but they also desire new product/service offerings of their own.

To sum up… logistics and politics may push the iPhone deal announcement out to late Summer with a launch in China coming sometime in the Fall. But it will happen this year! So says Inspector Clouseau.

jingjing10“Are we there yet?” …

“Almost … watch another Olympics video on your iPhone and before you know it we’ll be there.”

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The following is my response to questions about iPhone in China posed by China’s Mobinode.tv …

I read Mobinode.tv regularly and I appreciate the opportunity to share my views about iPhone coming to China.

overview-hero-20090608I believe we are at the beginning stages of a mobile revolution. A new breed of smartphones is opening up an ocean of information, entertainment and communication to wireless consumers. The iPhone is at the forefront of this revolution and I’m optimistic that Apple’s smartphone, and devices to be unveiled later, will soon “officially” be launched in the People’s Republic of China (PRC).

Let me go right to your questions.

1) Can you give a brief introduction of yourself, your experience in mobile telecom industry and iPhoneAsia.com?

I am the Managing Editor of iPhonAsia – a website covering iPhone with particular emphasis in China, Japan and Korea. I live in the San Francisco Bay Area and enjoy business and leisure travels to the Far East.

Over the years I’ve held senior management positions in the financial services industry and was responsible for development of numerous Web 2.0 applications. My current focus is technology and telecom in the Pacific Rim. I’ve written several dozen articles on iPhone and mobile telecom and have developed friendships with journalists, telecom analysts and app developers across Asia. You can read my complete bio on iPhonAsia.

(2) Regarding Chinese market, according to your last post, the coming 3G iPhone seems to be without wifi function? If it is true, what’s your view on this?

wifi-music-store-headerThere have been several rumors about WiFi being disabled on a customized iPhone for China (model A1324) that is reportedly in production right now. This rumor is most likely true. The only way for Apple to meet China’s requirements would be to develop an iPhone that includes China’s proprietary WAPI (Wireless LAN Authentication and Privacy Infrastructure). China’s past policy has prohibited WiFi on handsets. However in May, China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) changed the rules and approved a WiFi capable handset by Motorola. There was just one “catch.” This handset had to include WAPI. It seems that going forward, China will allow a WAPI/WiFi combination but not WiFi alone. The inclusion of WAPI adds extra expense to the manufacturing process and will require royalty payments. There may also be some user privacy concerns.

For China’s most tech-savvy power-consumers, WiFi will be important. As a result, I suspect smuggling of WiFi-enabled iPhones will continue to be a profitable enterprise. Apple will be a prime beneficiary as grey-marketers will continue to acquire full-price WiFi enabled iPhones in Hong Kong. In fact, on July 10, the iPhone 3GS went on sale in Hong Kong. The iPhone 3GS was also available SIM-unlocked via Apple’s online store in Hong Kong. The SIM-unlocked models sold out in a matter of hours! But not to worry, Apple (Foxconn/Hon Hai) will soon make more.

To keep things on the “up and up” (legal requirements) many of these SIM-unlocked iPhones have to make a two-way swim across the channel. They are manufactured by Foxconn in Shenzen, then shipped to a Hong Kong address and later smuggled back to the People’s Republic of China (PRC) for sale on the grey-market.

The HK price for SIM unlocked iPhone 3GS:

  • 16GB HKD 5,388 ($695 US)
  • 32GB HKD 6,288 ($811 US)

HONG KONG-LIFESTYLE-ASIA-IT-APPLEWhile some consumers in China may prefer grey-market iPhones with WiFi, there are many millions that have never used WiFi on their phones and have only experienced 2G speeds. For this group, WiFi might be a less important feature. They may be more interested in iPhone’s enjoyable user-experience, entertainment value and status.

chinese-handwriting-recognition-iphoneI am certain that Apple and China Unicom have carefully considered the implications of selling a non-WiFi iPhone in the PRC. I suspect the official iPhone will come pre-loaded with many special “for China” apps, such as Youku and Hanwang’s HWPen (although nothing has been confirmed re the localization of iPhone for China). The official iPhone will also be less costly as no jail-breaking or hacking will be necessary to activate the iPhone or to load popular apps via Apple’s China App Store.

What are the keys to make the official iPhone for China a success?

  • iphone-china-unicom-112Price – The non-WiFi iPhone must be priced below the grey market (WiFi-enabled) iPhones. It is possible that, as part of their negotiations with Apple, China Unicom has agreed to subsidize the retail price of iPhone. This subsidy will allow the “official” iPhone to be priced below grey-market iPhones.
  • During launch promotions, China Unicom and Apple must emphasize the benefits of owning an official iPhone with a warranty. An official iPhone will not have the “bricking” concerns that accompany grey-market iPhones.
  • China Unicom and Apple should promote how the iPhone is not a prisoner to fixed buttons and is designed to evolve. I have loaded software updates to my own iPhone several times and I have been amazed how my iPhone improves with age. Apple’s iPhone software updates often add new features/functions and speed. My iPhone is more valuable to me today than the day I purchased it (June 29, 2007).

(3) It has been said the App Store for China is under development. Can you share more details/opinions with us how the Apple store and iTunes would run in China?

Picture 3Apple has now opened their App Store in many countries including Hong Kong and the PRC. Apple’s China App Store has been live for several months now. Many Chinese Netizens are unaware of the store as it is currently limited to iPod Touch owners only. I’m optimistic that Apple will be allowed to open their China App Store to iPhones. But this won’t happen until a deal is made official and China’s MIIT issues a network access license to iPhone.

Picture 4I know that Apple has been working hard behind the scenes to further localize iTunes and their China App Store. I also believe that we will soon see many more apps, games and music for Chinese consumers.

There is some sensitivity around the inclusion of “games” on mobile devices (on Apple’s China App Store all games called “apps”). Right now the Nintendo DS is the only mobile gaming device that China has authorized. The iPod Touch and iPhone were not originally conceived as gaming platforms; yet, it’s hard not to notice how compelling the gaming experience can be on Apple’s mobile devices. I do not believe China’s MIIT will attempt to classify iPhone or iPods as gaming devices. The “genie is out of the bottle” (meaning that it is nearly impossible to go backward) and virtually every manufacturer’s handset could be classified as a gaming device. As a sidebar, I believe that Apple will launch an iTablet device (9.7 inch screen) within the next 12 months. This will be a powerful computer/e-book reader/gaming/music/entertainment/communications device.

As the saying goes – “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” I believe the success of Apple’s iPhone china-unicom-to-offer-iphone-and-g1-in-chinaplatform is a key reason China’s carriers have moved aggressively to develop their own:

  • App store,
  • Android-based mobile operating systems designed to promote the carriers’ own wireless value-added services (WVAS),
  • Customized Android-based handsets designed to promote the carriers’ WVAS

China Unicom clearly has plans for their own mobile music services and app store. There is a possibility that Apple would be required to make use of China Unicom’s platform to deliver apps and music downloads. I’m sure this was batted back and forth during several rounds of negotiations. Yet I remain optimistic that China’s iPhone owners will be authorized to use Apple’s iTunes/App Store and that Apple won’t have to take on the extra expenses of integrating China Unicom’s nascent platform into the China iPhone’s OS.

In the final analysis, Apple and China Unicom will need to strike a balance between competition and cooperation when it comes to their respective platforms.

(4) In your opinion, what kind of pricing system would be attractive to Chinese users?

I will have to defer to those more knowledgeable on handset/services pricing in China. One thing I do expect is a modest subsidy for iPhone that will reduce the cost to consumers. This is not unprecedented in China. China Mobile is presently subsidizing all TD-SCDMA handsets.

Picture 5Picture 6One clue to possible pricing in PRC is the iPhone prices/plans now posted in Hong Kong. You can do some comparison-shopping here:

There are several attractive plans via Hutchison “3” in Hong Kong. You can buy the 16GB iPhone 3GS for HKD 4,080 ($526 USD) with a monthly tariff of HKD 138 ($17.80 USD). There is also one plan where the 16GB iPhone 3GS is “free” if you pay a monthly tariff of HKD 398 ($51.35 USD) for two years.

One thing I would like to see from China Unicom is an unlimited data-plan for iPhone. Virtually all carrier plans in China now charge users by the amount of data they consume (e.g. time spent visiting websites, downloading, etc.) and I’m sure iPhone owners would be interested in an unlimited data-plan option. This would also be important if the iPhone does not include WiFi.

One sidebar item: On July 8, an MIIT Vice Minister pronounced that mobile plans in China are “too high” and need to be reduced. China Unicom publically acknowledged the MIIT’s point and they have pledged to reduce plan costs. Update: (July 17) 3G power users can breath a sigh of relief. China Unicom announced a new price cap on data. No matter what kind of 3G packages users have chosen, their monthly mobile phone Internet fees will be capped at CNY500

(5) From your observation, what’s the key opportunity/challenges for iPhone in Chinese market?

Key opportunities for Apple in China:

There are over 700 million wireless consumers in China. The majority are youthful, status conscious, and they want to own cool smartphones loaded with the latest apps/games and mobile technologies that allow them to interact with one another.

While incomes are lower in China compared to western markets, China still has tremendous consuming power. There are an estimated 340,000 millionaires in China and there is also a growing middle-class. An estimated 290 million Chinese households can be classified as middle-class with monthly incomes ranging from 5,000 CNY to 15,000 CNY ($732 to $2,196 USD). Chinese tend to save a relatively high share of their monthly take home pay. Rainy day savings can sometimes be spent on more expensive items, particularly if the product has status and is used every day … think iPhone.

iPhone_3G_RedAll of this adds up to a tremendous potential market for Apple’s iPhone. Using conservative estimates*, I believe Apple can capture a full 2% share of the wireless market in China within the first 12 months of an official iPhone launch. That’s 14 million iPhones and perhaps another 2 million or so coming via grey-market iPhone sales.

There has been some speculation that Apple may introduce a new low-price iPhone model sometime in 2010. This model might be an unlocked “2G only” iPhone designed for prepaid markets, where the majority of wireless consumers prefer to “pay-as-you-go” (not on contract). A low-priced iPhone could double or triple my iPhone sales projections. If a low-price iPhone model is introduced in the first half of 2010, I would project that Apple can capture 4 to 6% of China’s handset market by the end of 2011. That’s 28 to 42 million iPhones.

*I should emphasize that there are many unknown variables at present that can affect iPhone sales prospects. We will know much more once the official “iPhone in China” details are revealed.

Key challenges for Apple in China:

First and foremost is Apple (iPhone) obtaining a network access license (NAL) from China’s MIIT. The NAL is currently gating a formal iPhone deal announcement and an official iPhone launch. If recent rumors are true, the NAL may be issued before the end of summer.

3g_china-1One challenge for both China Unicom and Apple will be to ensure that the WCDMA 3G network coverage is fully deployed. On May 17 China Unicom rolled out the first 55 cities on their new WCDMA 3G network. On June 30, China Unicom announced the secondary rollout to 44 additional cities. By year-end 2009 there should be 284 cities in China with WCDMA 3G coverage.

apple-store-beijing-sanlitun-villageBuilding regional infrastructure (staff and facilities) and an iPhone sales network in China is an important task for Apple. Apple has store locations in Beijing at Sanlitun and soon at Qianmen Street, but the scarcity of Apple stores make this an impractical way to sell iPhones in the PRC.

250px-bestbuysh-711725iPhones will most likely be distributed through China Unicom’s vsnes.com division and may require partnerships with Wal-Mart and Best Buy (Five Star Appliance). There was also a media report that Foxconn’s Cybermart would sell iPhones in China, although both Apple and Foxconn denied this rumor

It will also be important for Apple to work with Chinese authorities to protect Apple’s intellectual property. Shanzhai ji counterfeit phones (“Shanzhai” culture is a rebellion against the monopoly sectors) are everywhere and many of these cheap knock-offs cross the boundary of imitation and into the realm of outright rip-off. While there are many Shanzhai ji iClones (iPhone look-alikes), no major manufacturer is immune to the bandit phones phenomena.

As a side point of interest, the Shanzhai (“bandit phones”) market in China has grown exponentially in the last few years. Virtually all brand name phones have a Shanzhai ji look-alike. Government authorities will admit that approximately 25% of all phones sold are Shanzhai ji knock-offs, but the real numbers may be closer to 50%. The Shanzhai ji economics are compelling. A bandit phone entrepreneur can drive his Ferrari over to Hong Kong and acquire chipsets and components from MediaTek and other suppliers and quickly set up an assembly line. These backroom operations often sprout up and disappear in a matter of months. It only takes a small team of engineers a few weeks time to prototype their next bandit phone. A Shanzhai entrepreneur might knock out a phone for about 300 CNY ($44 USD) and sell it for 600 CNY ($88 USD) with no pesky government taxes or licensing fees to cut into the fat profit margin. If the entrepreneur sells 23,000 units, he is now a millionaire. The bandit production operation will then shutdown only to appear again in another obscure warehouse. Rinse and repeat.

1290857877_fae1496688Of course you get what you pay for. I had an iPhonAsia reader write to me recently to complain about the “iPhone” she purchased while on holiday in Shanghai. It had poor audio quality, a screen pixilation problem, and after six weeks of use, it no longer worked. When I wrote her back inquiring about how/where she came to buy this phone, she confessed that it “really looked like an iPhone” but when she took it to the Apple store, the Genius instantly recognized she had purchased a counterfeit iClone. “Ah, that explains why it was so inexpensive.” Yep, there’s one born every minute.

picture-16Another matter for Apple’s legal team is the iPhone trademark. The iPhone name in China is partially owned Hanwang Corporation. I believe this naming rights issue will be resolved amicably. Apple and Hanwang have played nice together before. Apple bought the rights to Hanwang’s specialized iPhone character recognition app in 2008 and demoed the technology during the 2009 WWDC Keynote.

Another challenge for Apple is to get China’s telecom industry to understand that Apple’s platform is not a threat to carriers’ own services. If anything, iPhone has spurred a tremendous acceleration in carriers’ plans to build out their own eco-systems. You can read more on this topic on iPhonAsia.

In the end, I expect that iPhone’s official introduction in China will benefit both Apple and their carrier partner(s) in China. Perhaps the biggest beneficiary will be China’s wireless consumers.

(6) Regarding ecosystem for iPhone, can you talk about the difference you have observed between Asia and western market?

Apple’s iPhone platform or “ecosystem” consists of several important value-added services, including:

  • iTunes (music, videos, podcasts, e-books & courses via iTunesU)
  • App Store (apps and games)
  • MobileMe (cloud storage and file sharing)

Chinese consumers often find pirated MP3 music and cracked apps/games on torrent sites. Consequently there are far fewer paid downloads in China than in western markets. Despite this problem, when content delivery is tightly controlled (e.g. ringtones) it can be very profitable for carriers and other value-added services providers.

Another major difference between China and the west is the method of paying for goods and services. Transactions in China are primarily “cash and carry.” The vast majority in China do not own a major bank credit card. Consequently, Apple may need to craft some creative ways (e.g. some type of prepaid iTunes plan) for consumers to pay for music and app downloads. If Apple can make it convenient for those without credit cards to pay for content, this might stop some of the download piracy.

china-internet-cafeGiven the major youth demographic in Asia (majority of the population is under age 30), a large share of disposable income is spent on mobile phones when compared to western markets. One reason that phones are so popular in China and many markets in Asia, is the simple fact that many do not own desktop or laptop computers. Cyber cafes can be expensive and mobile handsets are often the only way to connect to the world. As a side note: Since computer ownership is rare in China, Apple and China Unicom may need to provide in-store kiosks or other means for iPhone owners (who don’t own a computer) to easily complete their own software updates or app downloads.

Young people love to chat on the phone, connect on the Net, play games, listen to music, and send instant messages. While IMs are popular in all global markets, Asian youth are in the lead when it comes to the sheer number of text messages they send. The average urban mobile user in China sends 4 text messages per day. During the Chinese New Year there were over 1 billion text messages sent in China!

Mobile gaming is also extremely popular throughout Asia. Social gaming in particular is a fast-growing segment. So too are social network sites where youth can interact. It is interesting how China’s one child policy may have affected the popularity of social gaming. Without siblings to play with, many children turn to mobile games to interact with peers.

(7) Is there big difference between Asian countries? We know iPhone in Japan is going very well, how about Korea and other areas?

3G networks are very mature in both Japan and South Korea. As a result, mobile TV, wave-to-pay (phone as a payment card) and other advanced 3G services are widely in use in both countries. There are also many advanced 3G handsets in Japan and Korea, but they seem to suffer from a fatal flaw. The user interface and software are not always intuitive, and many get lost attempting to use handset features. In contrast, the iPhone is highly intuitive. Most new iPhone owners never bother to consult the instruction manual. No need. It just works, and in such a logical and clever fashion.

o0750050010202769903iPhone received a modest but positive reception Japan. It has been estimated that iPhone 3G sold about 800,000 iPhones in Japan since the 2008 launch. The recent (June 26) iPhone 3GS launch in Japan was a major success. The launch day lines were long and many stores rapidly sold out of their initial supply. The enhanced camera and video capability on iPhone 3GS appear to be very popular with Japanese consumers.

iphone-south-koreaApple has not yet reached an iPhone accord in South Korea. The deal is still being negotiated, but there have been some encouraging developments. iPhone has now completed extensive radio research laboratory testing, and in May, the Korea Communications Commission (KCC) formally approved the iPhone 3G. More recently (July 12) the KCC also approved the new iPhone 3GS. Both iPhone models include WiFi.

Korea Telecom has been the most aggressive in pursuing a deal with Apple, but SK Telecom may also be in the running. I suspect there will be a race between China and South Korea to see which country is the first to officially launch iPhone. The smart bet might be on South Korea. It’s going to be a close race!

(8) What are the most impressive achievements in your mind for iPhone in Asia? How would you foresee the trends of iPhone application in the coming years?

iPhone is too new in Asia to count off a list of impressive accomplishments. I guess you could count as “impressive” the approximate 1.3 million real albeit “jail-broken” iPhones now in use in China. The average selling price of these grey-market handsets has ranged from 3,075 to 6,150 CNY ($450 to $900 USD) and despite the grey-market mark-up, the demand has been quite strong.

It was also impressive to see the positive reception that iPhone 3GS has experienced in Japan and in Singapore. For a better appreciation of numbers in line for iPhone in Singapore, have a look at the video made on a new iPhone 3GS by Satya, who was 10th in line for the July 10 launch.

sans_titre_1_copieRegarding trends in applications? … Games and massively multi-player online games (MMOGs), such as World of Warcraft, are hot and I expect that new MMOGs will be introduced in China with versions for iPhone. The iPhone 3.0 software allows for “in app” purchases and new revenue opportunities (e.g. virtual goods) for gaming companies. Many who would not initially pay to download the game, are eventually drawn into the game and find that they are willing to buy virtual goods. For example, gamers can use virtual currency to buy a prettier dress for their dance character or a more intimidating weapon for their warrior. Many gamers in China have even traded virtual currencies and exchanged them for real goods. Last year, nearly $2 billion in virtual currency was traded in China. This has caught the attention of authorities and China is moving to regulate virtual currency.

picture-4I am also looking forward to mobile payments and wave-to-pay apps on iPhone. Wave-to-pay would be convenient for those who buy lattes at Starbucks or fast-food at KFC. Wave-to-pay on handsets might also replace public transportation IC cards for regular commuters. I expect that in the future it will be possible to swipe your iPhone across a scanner to pay for almost any item.

route-apps-20090608There is literally no end to the possible directions and numbers of games and applications that might be developed for iPhone, iPod Touch and future Apple devices. Just think about the astounding growth we’ve seen in just one year. The Apple App Store turned 1 year-old on July 10 and there are now over 100,000 registered developers who have created 65,000 iPhone apps. Most impressively, the App Store has now surpassed 1.5 billion downloads!

The future possibilities are as wide and deep as the Pacific Ocean.

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China Mobile calls on operators to hold firm against Apple’s revenue-sharing demands

by Cindy Geng

Beijing. June 26. INTERFAX-CHINA – A China Mobile employee has called for a united front between the country’s three telecom operators in order to challenge Apple’s precondition on any iPhone deal with operators that it retain a high proportion of the revenues from the sale of iPhone applications.

Huang Yan, manager of the planning section of China Mobile’s business support department, said that Apple’s insistence on taking a large share of revenues from the sale of iPhone applications is a “threat to the value chain of China’s telecom industry.”

“Apple’s revenue sharing plan relegates telecom operators to mere custodians of the network, and denies them adequate revenue to cover the huge amount of bandwidth that iPhone users require,” Huang said.

Yan added that China Mobile ended negotiations with Apple due to Apple’s demands for a high proportion of revenues from application sales.

“Although the three operators in China are competitors, we should be unanimous when our business model is being challenged,” Huang said.

China Unicom is currently in talks with Apple over offering iPhone services in China. However, sources at China Unicom have told Interfax that the revenue-sharing plan being offered by Apple is below the operator’s bottom line.

A Wi-Fi-disabled version of the iPhone is in the process of getting a network access license from the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT).

iPhonAsia’s response to Interfax Article:

Hi Cindy,

I love the opening quote in your article:

cmhk_logo_2“A China Mobile employee has called for a united front between the country’s three telecom operators in order to challenge Apple’s precondition on any iPhone deal with operators that it retain a high proportion of the revenues from the sale of iPhone applications.”

Picture 3This sounds like a jilted “love interest” (China Mobile) who wants to throw a cold pale of water on a new blossoming romance between Apple and China Unicom.

Not only does it sound petty, but in many parts of the world, when companies conspire to fix pricing, that’s a violation of anti-trust laws. While China Mobile’s Huang Yan does not appear to be demanding fixed pricing, it’s somewhat perplexing that he is calling on all three major telecom operators to come together to challenge Apple. Huh?! Last time I checked, Apple has not yet sold one “official” iPhone in the People’s Republic of China.

Why would Apple, with 0% “official” market share, be perceived as such a threat to China Mobile?  It’s really a rhetorical question … I know the answer. This campaign against Apple’s revenue model is really just a subterfuge. This is a power struggle between carriers and all smartphone manufacturers who might dare challenge the monopoly of the carriers. While Nokia and other original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) sell tens of millions handsets in China, they cannot yet match Apple’s platform or value proposition.

Right now Apple has the most compelling products (iPhone and iPodTouch) and a wildly popular value-added services platform (iTunes, App Store, OS 3.0 and regular “free” software upgrades for iPhone and nominal fee for iPod Touch). If Apple’s wireless value added services win the populatiy contest, then carriers might be perceived as “dumb pipes.” Hence, I see today’s quotes from Huang Yan (China Mobile) has a tactic strait from the Sun Tzu’s “Art of War.” Instead of going to battle against all competing tribes (Nokia, RIM, Palm, HTC, etc.), pick out the most serious treat to dominance, and crush them, thereby instilling fear in all others who would dare to pose a challenge.

iphone-china-unicom-111But is Apple really posing a threat to carriers’ value chain? I would say no! Emphatically no! The reality is that carriers are not precluded from imitating Apple’s game, as long as they respect Apple’s intellectual property. And imitation is exactly what they are doing – China Mobile with their OPhones and OPhone OS (Android-based) and Mobile Market … and China Unicom with their UPhone (also Android-based) and UniPlus OS and their own app store. The difference is that China Unicom is going to follow the path of “coop-a-tition” (cooperation + competition) while China Mobile is apparently doing what they can to torpedo Apple’s budding relationship with China Unicom.

I am actually somewhat amused to see China’s dominant carrier (China Mobile) in such tizzy that they would send out a manager (Huang Yan) to attempt create controversy; “it’s us against Apple.” Perhaps this is more a reflection of China Mobile’s anxiousness over China Unicom’s WCDMA 3G? There are now well over 1,000,000 iPhones running on China Mobile’s EDGE 2G network. Many of these will be ripe targets for upgrade to WCDMA 3G on China Unicom’s network.

In the second to last sentence in today’s report, you noted that; “China Unicom is currently in talks with Apple over offering iPhone services in China. However, sources at China Unicom have told Interfax that the revenue-sharing plan being offered by Apple is below the operator’s bottom line.”

Interesting information. I suspect this may be somewhat of a face saving quote from China Unicom. They do not want to be perceived in the industry as having given up too much in their negotiations with Apple.

I am also curious as this quote appears to be in conflict with statements attributed to China Unicom in your April 7 post – China Unicom to get majority of revenues from iPhone App Store – source

“Apple Inc. has agreed to grant China Unicom the majority share of revenues from its App Store as part of ongoing discussions between the two parties regarding the introduction of the iPhone to China, a China Unicom source told Interfax on April 7.”

So now I wonder which China Unicom source is/was correct? The source quoted on April 7, who revealed that an agreement on App Store revenue sharing was complete? Or the source today, who now suggests the revenue-sharing plan being offered by Apple is “below the operator’s bottom-line?”

If your April 7 report is accurate, Apple has already agreed to give a “majority share” of App Store revenues to China Unicom. Where will this majority share come from? There are three hungry people at the table – Apple, China Unicom and Developers – and the pie can only be sliced so many ways. Apple may giving up some of its 30% share and/or developers may need to take a less than 70% share. If your latest (today’s) report is true, then China Unicom may be angling for an even greater slice of the pie. I suspect this “pie allocation” has already been settled per your original April 7 report.  I further suspect that China Mobile is just kicking up dust today in the hopes that they can embarrass Apple and China Unicom.

As far as the “fairness” of Apple’s app revenues share split … I would point out that there are very different cost-to-value propositions between Apple’s App Store and China Mobile’s new Mobile Market app store.

A bit of background …

China Mobile’s app store (Mobile Market) remains under development and will likely launch with only a fraction of the apps in Apple’s China App Store. How enthusiastic is China’s developer community to build for Mobile Market? In May, China Mobile announced their decision to share only 50% of Mobile Market revenue with developers while retaining a full 50% share for themselves. Many developers have quietly grumbled that this split is unfair. By comparison Apple’s model gives a full 70% share to developers (albeit this may be different in China). In addition to a smaller slice of the revenue for developers, Mobile Market developers will also need to work harder if they hope to make decent money on their apps. They will need to code apps for each mobile operating system (China Mobile’s OPhone [Android-based], Win-Mobile, Symbian, etc.). It is also my guess that China Mobile will need to subsidize some of the app development on Mobile Market. Hence their actual revenue share may wind up being less than the advertised 50%.

While it has not been discussed publically, China Unicom will almost certainly utilize Apple’s China App Store (versus their own “under development” app store) for delivery of apps and games to iPhone owners. Thousands of iPhone apps are already “good to go” on Apple’s China App Store. This is relevant has there are far fewer costs, if any, to be borne by China Unicom. Developers too will find the iPhone 3.0 SDK a pleasure to work with, and they can take advantage of “in app” purchases, subscriptions and integration with hardware devices to boost their revenues.

Apple’s App Store in China is a proven quantity. iPod Touch owners in China are already downloading apps and there is no complex build or ramp-up stage in order to launch for iPhone owners in China. The point being that it is hard to find justification for China Unicom’s demand for a greater than 50% share of Apple’s App Store revenues. I am certain that there are other rationales for China Unicom seeking out more revenue (e.g. to offset subsidy payment [if any] to Apple). China Unicom may also be looking to squeeze more reveune as they will need to price the iPhone competitively in PRC in order to effectively shut down grey market smuggling of iPhones into China. Competitive pricing may be even more important if WiFi is disabled on the official iPhone. It should be noted, that notwithstanding the grey market origin, Apple makes money on each “real” iPhone sold in China.

In the final analysis, I suspect China Unicom’s share of App Store revenues (likely finalized back in April) will turn out to generate more in bottom line revenue than the 50% share that China Mobile will take from Mobile Market.

Thanks again Cindy for your good reporting on Apple and iPhone in China negotiations.

~ Dan Butterfield

Editor, iPhonAsiahttp://iphonasia.com

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article-1190367-052F9C0A000005DC-131_468x306Two suitcases run through the x-ray machines at the Dalian, China Airport looked a bit suspicious to alert customs officials. The snugly packed bags contained eighty-two (82) new iPhone 3GS. The passenger belonging to the bags was detained by Chinese authorities. It was determined that the 82 iPhones in his possession were beyond the bounds of reasonable personal use, and no surprise, the passenger had not declared his bountiful Apple cargo to customs. Full story > HERE (in Mandarin)

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Update – June 12, 2009: Interfax TMT reporter Cindy Geng (who has good China telecom sources) reports the following – Beijing. June 11. INTERFAX-CHINA

“A version of Apple’s iPhone lacking Wi-Fi capability has made progress towards obtaining a Network Access License (NAL) from the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT), although a trademark dispute could set back its launch, sources told Interfax on June 11.

wifi-music-store-headerA China Unicom marketing employee, who asked not to be identified, said that the Wi-Fi-disabled iPhone had passed the tests of the State Radio Monitoring Center and obtained a five-year valid Radio Transmission Equipment Type Approval Certificate (RTETAC), which is one of the requirements for getting MIIT’s NAL. The model submitted for testing was compatible with GSM, WCDMA and Bluetooth, although it lacked Wi-Fi, according to the source.

Interfax previously reported that Apple prepared both Wi-Fi and non-Wi-Fi iPhones for the tests, as under Chinese regulations, Wi-Fi phones can only be granted NALs if they are also capable of the Chinese-developed wireless technology, WAPI (WLAN Authentication and Privacy Infrastructure).

The China Unicom marketing employee said that the iPhone still has a number of tests to pass before it can receive an NAL, including electromagnetic interference, trial operation, China Compulsory Certification tests, local support and after-sales support system evaluations and many others.”

Read more via > Cindy Geng’s report on Interfax TMT

Update – June 11, 2009: For several months now, iPhonAsia has read purported “insider leaks” about iPhone network testing in major Chinese provinces (Unicom testing iPhone in Henan and Heibei?). From what we heard, iPhone 3G was passing these unofficial WCDMA 3G network tests (conducted by Apple and China Unicom engineers in prep for formal MIIT tests) with flying colors. Moreover, there are now current iPhone 3G owners in China who have begun using China Unicom’s new WCDMA network with no reported problems.

Despite these unofficial reports, we’ve now hearing from MIIT’s China Telecommunication Technology Labs (CTTL). In response to media inquiries, CTTL clarified that Apple’s iPhone has received only one (1) of the two (2) required MIIT licenses:

  • Issued (five-year model approval) – Radio Transmission Equipment Type Approval Certificate (RTETAC)
  • Pending – Network Access License (NAL)

So what gives?  There could be many reasons for MIIT holding up iPhone’s Network Access License (NAL), such as Apple submitting a special new iPhone model for China with WAPI encryption? It could also be that “parties” have requested that MIIT not reveal the iPhone NAL until the formal Apple/Unicom deal has been announced?  Or something under the “other” category? It’s all just guesswork for now. We’ll update this post when we learn more.

MIIT approves iPhone for sale in China??

June 11, 2008 – If my source is correct, China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) has quietly approved the iPhone 3GS (or special China version). MIIT approval is a key prerequisite to iPhone’s official launch in China. I should stress that this is unofficial news

“iPhone has already passed various tests, and approved to be sold in China on May 7th 2009. Approval number 2009-1996, device code 2009CJ1996.”

iphoneChinaSource: Beijing-based telecom source anonymous by request. More via June 10 QQ report (in Mandarin – use Google translate) > here

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