Apple iPhone comes to China, but the price isn't right -- and there's no Wi-Fi

If you live in China, you can now get an Apple (AAPL) iPhone. But you have better have a lot of cash, since the best data plan is going to cost you some $3000 smackers a year.

On Friday, state-run China Unicom, Apple's partner in the Middle Kingdom and the second largest player in the Chinese market, launched the device at some 1000 "points of sale." It's a major milestone for Apple, which now gains access to a gargantuan mobile market -- some 710 million mobile-phone subscribers. But the launch immediately met a barrage of criticism over the high price and the lack of Wi-Fi service.
The first issue is cost. In China, the per capita GDP is about $5,400. And yet the state-owned China Unicom's non-service bundled iPhone is going to start at $732. Meanwhile, the most expensive data plan is going to cost over $3000 per year.

So right off the bat, we can see that this phone will not be affordable to hundreds of hundreds of million of Chinese people. But hey, that's capitalism, right? Maybe so, but huge swaths of the Chinese public will be priced out.

"It's too expensive," Marco Bai, a teacher in Beijing, told The Wall Street Journal. "There are many smart phones with similar functions" to the iPhone in China, he said. "And they are all cheaper."

Then there's Wi-Fi. Or rather, the lack thereof. China Unicom's iPhone's lack Wi-Fi service, which means no email or browsing the Internet at local hotspots. China's quasi-communist central government lifted restrictions on Wi-Fi in May, but nevertheless the China Unicom iPhone will not be able to take advantage of that.

PC World says that iPhone sales got off to ta slow start on Friday night in China. "Smog hung in the Beijing air as buyers filled about two-thirds of an outdoor sales queue set up at a shopping mall. Beijing's first rain in weeks fell on an overhead canopy during the event," the website's Owen Fletcher reported.

As the Journal reports, China Unicom is offering three models of the iPhone: 4,999 yuan ($732, for the 8-gigabyte iPhone 3G), 5,880 yuan ($861, 16-gigabyte 3GS), and 6,999 yuan ($1,025, 32-gigabyte 3GS). The state-run telecom giant is offering some eight plans of 3G wireless service, from 126 yuan ($18) a month to 886 yuan ($130) a month, with more multi-media features.

"IPhone users in the U.S. and Hong Kong pay less for iPhones – and their devices include Wi-Fi wireless Internet capability, which Unicom said its iPhone won't have," the Journal's Loretta Chao writes. China has an estimated 710 hundred million cell phone users, according to government figures.

Meanwhile, China Unicom said Friday that third quarter profit fell to 2.72 billion yuan ($398 million), based on Reuters calculations using data from the company's website.

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