Smartphone battleground: Apple and Google head to China

Smartphone battleground: Apple and Google head to China

Summary: The Apple vs. Google smartphone race is coming to China - and from early reports, it looks like Apple is eyeing the rougher road to the top.

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The Apple vs. Google smartphone race is coming to China - and from early reports, it looks like Apple is eyeing the rougher road to the top.

According to a report in the Financial Times, Apple couldn't come to a revenue-sharing agreement with the big dog mobile carrier in that country - China Mobile - and instead is talking to No. 2 China Unicom about a three-year exclusive deal for the iPhone. But don't think China Mobile execs are crying over the loss. They placing their bets on devices built on Google's Android mobile OS.

Here we go again - a multi-year exclusive deal with a carrier that is willing to give Apple what it wants in exchange for the chance to lure the young and hip over to its side of the fence with the iPhone. Sounds like AT&T in the U.S., right? And we've seen how well that's worked out.

Actually, for Apple, it's worked out just fine - record sales of the device, apps galore and plenty of buzz around the hottest gadget on the planet. But has it really been all that wonderful? There have been scores of complaints about the service with AT&T. Developers have been upset by Apple's random, no-explanation rejection of their apps. And there are plenty of potential customers who've been left out i the cold because they just aren't willing to be AT&T customers - myself included.

Sure, Apple has sold a lot of phones and, publicly, the company says that it's very happy with AT&T as its partner - but the buzz from behind the scenes is that Apple isn't very happy with the service problems and the subsequent negative customer experiences.

Who knows? Maybe the situation in China will be different. But there is one major difference between what went down in the states when the iPhone was first launched and what's happening in China today.

In the U.S., the iPhone changed the smartphone game by introducing a device that took mobile computing to a new level and sent competitors scrambling to come up with products and devices that could challenge it. This time around, mobile carriers aren't scrambling to create an iPhone killer. They have alternatives to the iPhone - and China Mobile seems to Google's Android. The carrier is expected to simultaneously introduce two Android-powered smartphones before the iPhone hits the market.

Also see: It's official: Google and Apple are competitors (especially in mobile)

I like the iPhone - a lot. But it's not the only game in town anymore. The Android OS - based on my exposure to it - is a top-notch OS with some great apps and a very friendly user interface. Likewise, I've heard nothing but good things about Palm's Pre smartphone, which is running the new Palm OS.

Regular readers know that I'm a big fan of Apple's products - but, lately, I haven't been big on ego-driven business decisions being made in Cupertino.

Why did Apple squash the Google Voice app? Increasingly, Web-based services - including search, maps, mail and so on - are becoming integral parts of the mobile experience. But here you have Apple rejecting some of Google's apps for the iPhone.

Why is Apple so hell-bent on these long-term exclusive deals that keep millions of potential customers from becoming iPhone users? A lot can happen over the course of three years in China.

Bottom line: consumers today have some real options when it comes to an iPhone alternative. And while I'm sure Apple will be able to gain some ground with China Unicom and even lure some users over from China Mobile, there will also be plenty of China Mobile subscribers who won't be willing to switch - leaving the door open for them to discover the benefits of Android. As for Google, this would give the company three years to introduce the Chinese market to Android, without having to worry about iPhones sitting next to their phones in China Mobile stores.

If Google beats Apple in this smartphone race in China, Apple will only have itself to blame.

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Topics: Mobility, Apple, Google, Hardware, iPhone, Smartphones, China

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12 comments
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  • China is a whole different ball game

    Doing business in China is unlike any other market, and Chinese
    consumers are notoriously hard to pigeonhole. Add to that a government
    that's ostensibly capitalist but still very totalitarian, and you have a tough
    nut to crack. Making any conclusion at this point is pretty silly. That
    being said, I think the only assured result is that Apple will sell a lot of
    phones and make a ton of money. Because that's really what Apple does
    best, and their stock price shows it.
    matthew_maurice
  • Awesome, Sam!

    You managed to go the entire article without mentioning that Nokia already have over 60% of the smartphone market in China.

    Score one for research.
    Sleeper Service
    • Good point...

      What will be interesting to see is if Apple will be able to dislodge Nokia. I know in India Apple wasn't successful. Nokia is the major player in India and from my knowledge both China and India have people wanting more than eye candy for their phones. Symbian provides that for them. Even though I like the new iPhone's capabilities, truth be told, they should have been there a long time ago. And no matter what Apple or iphone fanboys say...multitasking is a must on a smartphone. That has been the main reason for me not buying an Iphone and sticking to my Nokia N82.
      faiz553
      • @Good Point

        Anything that other handsets can do to remove
        Nokia from any area of this globe is a good
        thing. Well, let me back up on that one.
        Nokia phones are overrated, overmarketed, and
        overblown. Like the iPhone, there are
        alternatives, and good alternatives, and in
        many cases better alternatives. Nokia at 1/2
        of their market share is a good thing...more
        phones with Android and WebOS (insert
        obligatory iPhone inclusion here) can only help
        this market...and expand the capabilities of
        what 3rd party developers and content providers
        and do.

        realism
    • Title?

      Did you read the title of the blog by any chance? It says Apple and Google head to China. What does Nokia have to do with this conversation? Sam is talking about two specific vendors, that's what his blog is all about!
      Eleutherios
  • RE: Smartphone battleground: Apple and Google head to China

    Smartphone...is best

    Just Relax please listen
    http://www.jazzradiostreaming.com/
    http://www.jazzradiostreaming.com/
    http://www.jazzradiostreaming.com/
    John0012
  • RE: Smartphone battleground: Apple and Google head to China

    "The Apple vs. Google smartphone race is coming to China - and from early reports, it looks like Apple is eyeing the rougher road to the top."
    http://wificellphones.co.uk/category/smartphones
    M0tt0
  • RE: Smartphone battleground: Apple and Google head to China

    Battleground?! Pleeeezee! Google= nobody, Apple= marginal, so where's the battleground? I think you need to take your eyeballs off the local propaganda, and understand the world at large is not the same as the hicktown you live in.
    harkul
  • What does this mean?

    They have alternatives to the iPhone - and China Mobile seems to Google?s Android.
    mstry9comcast
  • RE: Smartphone battleground: Apple and Google head to China

    Well i think apple is the best phone ever they have changed the concept of mobile phone as they come up with the softest but reliable touch screen system. And Now they are coming up with new Apple Tablet PC which will be out next month here in UK. Yes it is true. Here is the information http://www.domesticutilities.com/apple.htm I think google is going to make good money as they are launching in one of the biggest human market of the world china. Well good luck to google and apple.
    kashiqi
  • deja vu?

    sounds a bit like when Apple lost the Personal Computer market to the clones
    yurl2007
  • RE: Smartphone battleground: Apple and Google head to China

    powlif,good post!
    makrejktt2201-24353662080873395391113538372983