Perhaps stung by the endless criticism about its bungled iPhone launch, China Unicom has announced that it has now sold 100,000 handsets since October 30.
Unicom said sales had increased after it unveiled a nationwide advertising campaign on November 16 and that it still hopes the iPhone will (a) make up 10% of its 3G phone sales and (b) become the best-selling smart phone in China.
"We’re very confident about the market position of the iPhone," said Chang Xiaobing, Unicom’s chairman, in an interview with Bloomberg.
He admitted, graciously, that "sales could have been higher" but denied that Chinese customers are getting their iPhones through Hong Kong, on the gray market.
Despite Mr Chang’s denials, BDA China, a consultancy, reckons that one million iPhones arrived through the gray market this year. The Hong Kong iPhones sell for the same price or less as their mainland cousins, but don’t have their wifi disabled.
A quick search on Taobao, the giant online shopping site, shows that while thousands of iPhones are listed, the virtual China Unicom shop inside the site has only managed to attract FIVE buyers since it launched two weeks ago.
Unicom is still charging customers 7,999 yuan ($1,172) up front for the top of the line 3GS model, although it is possible to claw back some or all of the fee through free calls during the contract length. In comparison, the same model is sold by AT&T in the US for $299.
And while 100,000 units sounds like a decent sales figure, compare it with the million units sold in the US in the phone’s first weekend. Or compare it to South Korea, where the iPhone made its debut at the end of November.
As in China, the iPhone faces a market dominated by large domestic handset makers, such as LG and Samsung. But unlike in China, more than 65,000 pre-orders were made in South Korea, thanks to KT Corp’s pricing offer of a free phone for a two-year $115 a month contract.
It’s remarkable that Unicom hasn’t managed to devise a more attractive pricing policy, especially now that Research in Motion, the makers of the Blackberry, have signed a deal that will see them importing large numbers of their smartphones into the Chinese market.