Does China really need an iPhone?

Want to be draconian about Internet censorship? There's an app for that.

Apple and China Unicom have partnered up to bring the iPhone to China — the world's largest mobile market with 687 million wireless subscribers. It's also one of the world's worst places for free expression on the net, which is something the iPhone relies heavily on with its App Store. (Usually.) If the App Store was more or less empty, would you still care about your iPhone?

The government-owned Unicom seems to see the device as a luxury option to attract higher paying customers. It's not planning to share any of its profits with Apple, preferring to buy the handsets wholesale instead. Details are still emerging, but the Wall Street Journal reports that the iPhone "will be stripped of its Wi-Fi wireless Internet capability to comply with government regulations."

The handicapped iPhones won't only face stiff competition from an entrenched market of Android-capable phones and high-end handsets, but from itself as well. According to research firm BDA China, an estimated 1.5 million iPhones have been purchased through China's gray market and those users aren't likely to spring for a new Chinese version.

It's also those cracked iPhones that make the Unicom sets less attractive, as the gray market versions have more functionality. At the end of it all you really have to wonder if it's even a true iPhone that Unicom will be peddling, or just another touchscreen phone in an already saturated market.

So maybe the question isn't whether China needs an iPhone. Maybe I should be asking if China Unicom is even really offering one?

Via Wall Street Journal
(Image credit: iPhonAsia)