I just put up a post on my blog about Apple finally releasing the New iPad in China. (post is HERE) The release is scheduled for July 20th, a full four months after the product's initial release US and world release.
This got me thinking - China is Apple's second largest market (behind the US) and is now the world's largest smartphone market. So why does Apple release its products so many months after, and what would be a possible release schedule for the upcoming iPhone 5? I'm an American living here in China and every year I have to watch those large Keynote slides at Apple's events listing all the countries where the iPhone/iPad will be available. Inevitably, China isn't in the second wave, or even the third wave, of countries to get the product. Why?
This is what I initially wrote:
How long will Apple continue its tradition of releasing new products in China months after the initial worldwide launch? China is Apple's second largest market. How soon in the future will we see a joint US-China release? iPhone 5?
Apple currently only has 5 mainland stores and that number would be no more than 7 or 8 by the time the iPhone 5 is released. Certainly it can't be that much trouble to control a zero-day device release when there are so few stores, although Apple has had problems in the past. Is Apple worried that opening the Chinese market on day one would put too much strain on their production chain? Why not take inventory of an iPhone 5 away from Europe to fill a launch day need in China? After all, China is Apple's second largest market (and world's largest smartphone market). China's also a country with a huge amount of iPhones for sale on the blackmarket, especially after an iPhone has been launched in other countries but not yet in China. So why not directly target this market from day one and not allow the import blackmarket any space or time to grow?
I'll be interested to watch the iPhone 5 announcement and see the slide indicating when and where the iPhone will be launching. What if Apple were to announce an iPhone 5 launch in the US and China on day one, with the rest of the world following in the months after? Shouldn't Apple be focused on putting its products into its two largest markets first?
Makes sense to me.
Last October 14th, Apple launched the iPhone 4S on day one in the US, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, Germany, France, and Japan. Two weeks later it launched in 22 other countries, most of them in Europe. The iPhone 4S wasn't released in China until January 12th, 4 months later (just like the New iPad).
Apple is clearly focused on the China market, making vast improvements for Chinese users in Mountain Lion, adding Mandarin language to Siri, and setting aside time during the keynotes to specifically talk about these improvements.
The question is... why not launch the iPhone 5 in the US and China at the same time.
These are Apple's two most important markets. If it's a matter of initial product inventory, why not drop smaller markets like Australia and France from the initial launch and also push back release dates for other various European countries. Does Spain really need the iPhone before China, especially with its current economic troubles? What about consumers in Estonia, Slovakia, Italy, and Liechtenstein? They all got the iPhone 4S before the China launch date was even announced. So what about the upcoming iPhone 5 launch schedule.
Which initial launch would Apple prefer for iPhone 5 (keeping in mind countries not included below can launch in the two-four months after)?
Option 1 - US, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, Germany, France, Japan (same as iPhone 4S launch)
Option 2 - US, China (not including China Mobile)
Option 3 - US, China (not including China Mobile), United Kingdom, Germany
Option 4 - US, China (including China Mobile).
Below I have calculated potential subscriber base for each release based on Wikipedia numbers.
Option 1 - 594 million subscribers (I included total wireless subscriber bases in Canada, UK, Australia, Germany, and France. Only included Softbank for Japan)
Option 2 - 597 million subscribers (Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, China Unicom, China Telecom. Even without China Mobile, this subscriber base is larger than all of Option 1 combined.)
Option 3 - 786.44 million subscribers (I threw in what are probably the two most important European countries - UK and Germany.)
Option 4 - 1.263 billion subscribers (With the addition of China Mobile, the US and China market alone more than double all the potential subscribers in Option 1.)
Even Option 2, which launches the iPhone in only China and the US and doesn't include China Mobile, gives Apple a larger subscriber base than Option 1, puts the iPhone 5 immediately into Apple's two largest and most important markets, and also puts the iPhone 5 immediately into the largest smartphone market in the world (China).
So what do you guys think? Is the answer really as simple as Apple keeping to tradition, launching with Option 1, and coming to China months later? Or is their new focus on China in their keynotes foreshadowing a possible change in their launch strategy?
Let me know.