In theory, officially introducing China up to the charms of the iPhone should have been a coup for Apple, potentially generating the sale of millions of handsets in the largest market on Earth. But the reality looks far bleaker: according to data from the official Chinese online iPhone store, Taobao.com, only five iPhones were sold in the first two weeks of its online availability.
Taobao.com is not the only place selling iPhones: Apple’s carrier partner in China, China Unicom, is also selling iPhones, but has not released official numbers. That said, Taobao.com’s numbers should be viewed grimly: it’s the largest and most frequented electronics site in China… the Chinese equivalent of Amazon.com.
The iPhone is probably not going over well in official Chinese channels for a number of factors. The biggest is that while, officially, the iPhone has never been released in China before, the reality is that the country is already saturated with them. Anyone who can afford an iPhone has been able to pick them up unlocked handsets on the black market for years. These handsets not only work with pre-paid SIMs — the preferred cell phone plan in China — but they are fully functional, containing the WiFi chip Apple had to excise from the iPhone in order to broker a deal with China Unicom at all.
As of right now, it looks like the iPhone, as sold officially by China Unicom and Taobao.com, is a bust in China. But don’t take that to mean China’s immune to Apple’s charms: the blackmarket iPhone is still going gang busters!