China Mobile and Apple Rumble over App Store

Aiya! There's still no iPhone officially available in the world's most populous country, the People's Republic of China. Sure, Apple actually sells unlocked iPhones in Hong Kong and Taiwan in an attempt to lure the most affluent Chinese customers to their platform -- and lets not forget the monstrous iPhone 2G black market -- but absent homegrown carrier subsidies and support, it will never attain most-favored device status.

Previously the problem was China Mobile wanting to strip out the 3G and WiFi. The latest holdup? The App Store, according to Interfaxchina (via Ars). China Mobile doesn't seem to like the idea of Apple running its own software service right on the phone, and would prefer to handle all that on their own end. Heh. So would AT&T, Rogers, Vodafone, and all the other oppressive, myopic, oligopolistic carriers around the world. The lure of the iPhone and its data-gulping customers let Apple one-inch-punch their way right through that tired old carcass, but China...?

China's still wearing the iron vest of feature control furor.

So the raised platform is set, the combatants have taken their corners, and the rules remain: knockout or knockoff. Who's going to win this battle?

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Rene Ritchie

EiC of iMore, EP of Mobile Nations, Apple analyst, co-host of Debug, Iterate, Vector, Review, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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Reader comments

China Mobile and Apple Rumble over App Store


China. They've already started censoring the Internet. If you can control that, you can control what companies sell their product (locked).

Apple should just walk away and forget it and just keep selling the unlocked ones they already sell.

STARTED censoring the internet? They've been censoring more than the internet for decades now. (Ever hear of Mao Zedong?) Although they still have a LONG way to go, censorship is much less an issue in China now than it was even 10 years ago. They are slowly learning that progress means openness, and they are slowly moving in that direction, despite the government's attempts to continue censorship in various fashions.
Ultimately, I don't know if China or Apple will win this particular battle, but freedom of speech and openness are slowly winning the war in China.

China Mobile has made no secret of their intent to build their own app store and promote their own value added services (VAS) platform (Monternet), their wireless music services platform ( and their brand new Web 2.0 platform - similar to MobileMe. China Mobile made 27% of their revenue in 2008 through their VAS and they don’t want any leakage to Apple. For embedded links see >
China Mobile has already launched R&D for its own Android powered mobile operating system, jointly with cell phone producer Lenovo. The new MOS has been dubbed Ophone. With its own operation system, China Mobile can install more services of its own.
China Mobile has also paid Topssion and Accenture plenty of yuan to work on customization plans for TD-SCDMA handsets and perhaps to feed them news they want to hear … “you can build your own app store just like Apple … and here’s how can we help.”
It is quite possible that China Mobile pushed hard in an effort get Apple to strip down the iPhone (no WiFi, no App Store, no iTunes, etc.) in favor of China Mobile’s own VAS. It’s also possible that Apple said “No!” China Unicom also wants to push their own VAS but they are eager to steal away customers from the dominant China Mobile and may be open to “less” iPhone crippling. If China’s carriers insist on over customization of iPhone (dumbing down iPhone in favor of their own VAS), Apple may roll in China sans a formal carrier deal.
June may be the timeframe for official announcements in China. Apple has a China roadmap. There’s ample evidence that Apple has a China distribution plan and recent China job postings suggest that plans are well along the path.
More on Apple and China Unicom rumors >