In most countries, the arrival of the new iPhone 4S might be cause for celebration among Apple fans. Whether that’s the case in China—where a counterfeit “iPhone 5” has been on sale since the fall—remains to be seen. At least now the real thing is on its way.
Apple announced on Wednesday that it will launch the iPhone 4S in China—and 21 other countries—starting Friday, Jan. 13. As in the United States, the 4S retails in China at $199 for the basic 16GB model, $299 for the 32GB version, and $399 for for the 64GB edition. Apple is also duplicating its U.S. prices for earlier iPhone models: The iPhone 4 costs $99 while the iPhone 3GS is free. A two-year wireless contract is required to obtain the phones at those prices, however.
Also on January 13, the iPhone 4S will become available in Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Bolivia, Botswana, British Virgin Islands, Cameroon, Cayman Islands, Central African Republic, China, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Grenada, Guam, Guinea Conakry, Ivory Coast, Jamaica, Kenya, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritius, Niger, Senegal, St. Vincent and The Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago, Turks and Caicos, and Uganda.
But China is clearly the key market among those countries. The country surpassed the United States as the world’s biggest consumer of smartphones in 2011. Apple has seen that growth in its own business, with China—together with Hong Kong and Taiwan—becoming its second-biggest market in the third quarter of last year. Apple has six stores in the market now, including Hong Kong and Shanghai locations that opened in 2011.
Many American companies complain about counterfeit products sold illegally in China, but Apple may have one big advantage over its rivals: Price. Illicit versions of the iPhone 4S have sold in that country for as much as $2,000. In this case, at least, authenticity may be a real bargain.