Apple’s (AAPL) iPhones have been available in China — unofficially — since they went on sale in 2007. But Apple may have finally reached a deal to officially start selling its phones in the world’s biggest mobile market.
The iPhone will debut in China in May, “industry sources” told ShanghaiDaily. Apple will partner with China Unicom, not China Mobile, the country’s biggest carrier.
Why not China Mobile? The carrier and Apple have struggled with issues like phone subsidies and who would control the phone’s App Store, according to reports. And China Mobile uses a different wireless technology than the iPhone. China Unicom, on the other hand, will use the 3G technology that Apple currently uses.
There’s no doubt that this will increase Apple’s addressable market, and will be helpful for future iPhones. (And the channel fill could be a nice boost for Apple’s unit shipments.) But we wonder how many people in China who want iPhones have been sitting around waiting to buy them — instead of just buying unofficial, unlocked ones. (Update: To clarify — plenty of old iPhones using older GSM/GPRS networks. But 3G will be a draw, so that could drive adoption. And even lightweight adoption in China can be a big number of people.)