iPhone finally coming to China, but who cares?

When BusinessWeek’s Peter Burrows reported the other day that Apple has finally applied for a Network Access License with China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT), 1.3 billion potential Chinese customers collectively shrugged their shoulders.If approved, the Network Access License would be the final checkbox on the iPhone’s long list of hoops it has had to jump through to officially launch in China. The expected OK from MIIT means we may see made-for-Mainland iPhones at Apple stores and authorized retailers by next February’s Spring Festival.

Whoop. Tee. Doo.

iPhone-ChinaI mean, congratulations to Apple for having finally managed to navigate the complex and kowtow-requiring process of doing business in China. However, it will simply be a couple years too late.

The iPhone is already a widely successful product in China. Sure, its instruction booklet is in traditional characters, and the warranty sucks, but that hasn’t stopped an estimated million+ folks from buying one. Hong Kong iPhones have been flowing into the Mainland since the smartphone landed there this time last year.

And if cross-market competition wasn’t enough to rain on the mobile’s China “debute”, the Chinese iPhone is required to be de-WiFi’d. Yep, one of the most significant and useful features of the phone will be removed before the handset is put under the glass at your local Apple store.

All this means is that the majority of iPhone wanters will buy a jailbroken WiFi-enabled one, thereby null and voiding the value of the warranty. Either that or they’ll just continue purchasing the non-modified WiFi-enabled one from Hong Kong, which comes with an equally useless warranty.

While I do respect that a good warranty can be a deal sealer, trading feature-rich phone now for possible protection later goes against all the small fibers of our instantly gratified nature.

Add to this the fact that foreign-brand electronics are almost universally more expensive in the Mainland than they are in HK (or via proxy, on the grey market), and I just can’t see what the advantage is to buy the “legit” iPhone. No, I believe it’s much more likely that in-China Apple lovers will be sporting the new iPhone 3GS long before the Year of the Tiger arrives.

(Photo via Peopleware)

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