China to get a bite of Apple iPad

Cupertino's slate device will officially start selling in China come Friday, long after similar devices and imitations have gone on sale. Yet, the real deal has potential to do well, notes an analyst.
Written by Liau Yun Qing, Contributor

Even as iPad fans in China count down to getting their hands on the device come Friday, one analyst based in the country has predicted sales of the slate will be favorable despite threat from imitations and similar tablets.

In a press statement released Monday, Apple revealed that customers in China will be able to purchase the iPad slate device beginning 10.00 a.m. on Sep. 17 through Apple retail stores and selected Apple authorized resellers. The suggested retail price for the 16GB version of the Wi-Fi-only iPad is 3,988RMB (US$589.83), while the 32GB and 64GB models are priced at 4,788RMB (US$708.15) and 5,588RMB (US$826.47) respectively.

Unlike the iPhone, which was sold without Wi-Fi capabilities during its launch by China Unicom in China, customers eager to get their hands on the iPad will now have their choice restricted to the Wi-Fi-only version as the company did not include the Wi-Fi plus 3G models in its pricing.

Before the iPad's entrance, the Chinese market had witnessed an influx of slates by local companies with some labeling their products as iPad killers. Others are aimed as copycat versions of the real deal but at a much lower price--the iPed reportedly sells for US$105.

One analyst, however, believes that the real iPad still has lots of potential in the market, thanks to the Apple brand and the usability of the Apple iOS.

Despite its hefty price tag, the "Apple brand has tremendous cachet in China" so the iPad has a chance to sell well as a status symbol, Ben Cavender, associate principal at China Market Research Group, told ZDNet Asia in an e-mail interview. "This is something that most technology brands cannot rely on as heavily."

He noted that while Chinese consumers have been using portable media players for a long time, the concept of a versatile tablet is still fairly new. There are competitors but usability still plays a huge factor and right now Apple has the upper hand as its "iOS is more smoothly integrated than the competition", he said.

Cavender acknowledged that eventually there will be Google Android-powered tablets appearing as competitors, but said it will take some time for these devices to have the "same kind of presence in terms of functional applications" as the iPad.

According to PCWorld, Apple will be retailing its iPad device via its official retail stores in Shanghai and Beijing as well as some authorized resellers, but will not be selling the device through its China Web site.

The company will also host "special iPad workshops to help customers learn more about [the] magical new product". This is on top of the free Personal Setup service--which includes helping customers customize their slates by setting up e-mail and load applications--available for every customer who buys an iPad at the Apple retail store.

Unveiled this January, Apple's slate was first sold in the United States in April, followed by the United Kingdom, Europe, Australia and Japan in May and nine other countries from July.

The device has since experienced brisk sales, with Apple earlier revealing that it had sold three million units of its slate in June. According to IDC, if the pace of sales continues unchanged, it will reach the four million mark by end-2010.

Report: China Unicom shows displeasure
Apple's decision to sell its slate device has seemingly created some unrest with its Chinese telco partner, China Unicom.

According to Chinese news site Sohu.com, a spokesperson from the telco reportedly revealed that Cupertino's decision to go ahead with its iPad sales was "not known" by the telco. The carrier is currently in talks with the iPad maker to agree on data price plans, among other details, he added.

The China Unicom spokesperson also said this is not the first time that Apple has put the telco in a "difficult position". One example of this was when the U.S. company sold its iPhone 3GS by as much as 1,000RMB (US$147.90) lower than the same handsets sold by the carrier.

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