updated 02:20 am EST, Tue December 11, 2012
Figure achieved in under a week; sales to commence Friday
China's second-largest carrier, China Unicom, has announced on its Sina Weibo blog that it has already reached 300,000 pre-orders for the iPhone 5, four days ahead of its retail debut and four days after it began accepting pre-orders. The company reported that 100,000 reservations had been taken on the first full day of pre-ordering, and it reached 200,000 pre-orders on the second day. Though the iPhone had been seen to be losing market share in China during the previous quarter, this may represent pent-up demand for the latest model.
The healthy pre-order numbers suggest that Apple will find renewed strength through the two national carriers that currently offer it, and will press on for a deal with China Mobile, the region's largest carrier by far -- which has resisted the high subsidies Apple requires for the phone. China Telecom, the third-largest carrier, reported only that it sold 5,000 iPhone 5 units on the first day of pre-order sales, but has been taking pre-orders for weeks longer than China Unicom, making it difficult to determine how many total units Apple may have sold so far.
In China, some carriers -- such as China Unicom -- offer a full subsidy for the iPhone but in a manner backwards from the way the US handles it. Users are required to pay the full amount for the iPhone 5 -- about 5,900RMB (or $950US) for a 16GB model, the most popular configuration -- and the carrier refunds the money on a monthly basis, with the amount determined by how long the contract is. While not expected to challenge the two most popular smartphone companies in China -- Samsung and Lenovo, respectively -- Apple may be able to recover from its fall to sixth place (from fourth) in the most recent quarter's survey of sales.
According to a chart provided by China Unicom, the 16GB model (in either color) accounts for 85 percent of pre-orders, probably due to the high initial cost. The 32GB (12 percent) and 64GB (three percent) make up the rest. The northern half of the country accounts for just over half of the orders, with Beijing being the city where the iPhone 5 is most popular. It appears that mostly men buy the iPhone 5 (74 percent), though China Unicom suggests that many will be given as gifts to wives and girlfriends. As in the US, the iPhone 5 is more popular with 30-and-under buyers (just over 50 percent of pre-orders), but a substantial percentage (34 percent) are in the 30-to-40 bracket.
China Unicom by itself has 232 million subscribers, though like its competitors the vast majority of that base are feature-phone or prepaid model subscribers. China Mobile -- the largest carrier and the only holdout against the iPhone so far -- has more than a billion subscribers. Retail sales of the iPhone 5 for China Unicom and China Telecom will begin on December 14 and it is expected that stores will again see long lineups as they did for previous iPhone model launches.