Talking tech since 2003

I don’t care what industry you’re in or what product you’re trying to push; if you work in sales you know that a higher number of potential customers leads to a higher number of real customers and ultimately more money in your pocket.  That’s a simple common-sense thing and has applied to retail since the beginning of civilized times.  So when you’re looking to make incredible numbers of sales where better is there to turn to than a country like China that sports one of the world’s largest populations and economies?  This is a concept that Apple appears to be following with their renewed effort to make the Apple iPhone – a device that has gained incredible popularity and market traction in the United States and throughout the world – available to customers of China Mobile Ltd., China’s largest cellular network.

As the Wall Street Journal is reporting Apple’s current effort to bring the iPhone into the hands of China Mobile customers would give Apple a huge potential audience of more than six-hundred million people; a number more than threefold the less than two-hundred million users of China Unicom which currently has the iPhone available.  With those kind of numbers it makes perfect sense that Apple is eager to get a piece of China’s pie.  But will the California-based company be able to play catch-up and attract enough China Mobile users to justify their newfound efforts?

First off, we have to consider that Apple really is going to be coming into the game late here.  After the original iPhone was released in mid-2007, China Mobile customers have managed to live without the device for nearly four years now.  In this same timeframe, other smartphone platforms have made their ways into the hands of Chinese consumers who have done just fine.  Many of these already-popular devices are based on Google’s Android operating system which admittedly gives users a greater number of options in terms of devices, including lower end devices that can be much more cost-effective.

With that, Apple’s success in pushing the iPhone onto China Mobile customers is leveraged on the company’s ability to convince users that the difference in price is justifiable.  In itself this already sounds like a very challenging task.  On top of this, though, Apple is going to be up against China’s legendary black market where users can already get ahold of various unlocked and knockoff iPhones just as easily as I can walk into a fast food restaurant and order a hamburger here in the states.

All things considered, we also have to account for the fact that if anyone in China really wanted an iPhone they could have simply switched over to China Unicom, a company that has offered the Apple iPhone for the last two years now.

As negative as all of this sounds, though, I really think that Apple is making a wise move by focusing attention in China.  Because the country is often viewed as sporting “cutting edge” technology, it’s definitely foreseeable that building the iPhone around a more electronically in-touch population could easily give the iPhone even more growing room.  And in all honesty, I’m sure that Apple executives are drooling over the monstrous population that uses China Mobile and the money that could be made by tapping into that market.

On top of this, we have to consider that Apple’s recipe for success is partially based upon consumers adopting other Apple products once they get their hands on their first.  This has been speculated as the reason that Apple actively develops Safari for Windows and why the company builds products that integrate so cleanly with one another.  If the iPhone were to make it really big in China there isn’t a doubt in my mind that we’d see iPad and Macintosh sales follow suit soon after.  Looking at Apple’s more recent introduction of retail stores in the country, this concept makes real sense.

Is it worth it?  In my mind Apple’s new emphasis on the Chinese market is hands-down a venture well-worth entertaining as it has the potential to take the company to new levels in the foreign market.  Will it come easy or quickly, though?  Considering Apple’s late entry into the Chinese market and the current adoption of competing products, I just don’t see this being the case.  After all, the Great Wall wasn’t built in a day.

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