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Apple to set loose five million ChiPhones

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The long-awaited Chinese iPhone will go on sale in September, and it has already added nearly $1.5bn to Cupertino's coffers.

Or so says a report out of Beijing in Wednesday's International Business Times, which says that China Unicom has coughed up a cool 10bn yuan ($1.46bn) for 5 million iPhones.

Five million ChiPhones would be a hefty win for Apple, but not a staggering one. Cupertino sold 5.2 million iPhones last quarter and is expected by at least one analyst to sell 6.8 million more in the current quarter - and that's not counting the China deal.

The predominant mobile standard in The Middle Kingdom is the uniquely Chinese TD-SCDMA, which is used by China's top mobile provider, China Mobile. The smaller China Unicom was awarded the right to the WCDMA standard in January - and that will be the standard which the ChiPhone will employ, according to the IBT.

In March, China Unicom chairman Chang Xiaobing let it be known that his company was in negotiations to bring the iPhone to China, a disclosure that confirmed earlier rumors.

China Mobile had also been rumored to be in talks with Apple as early as 2007, but those talks were reported to have broken down in early 2008.

The IBT report quotes a China Unicom exec as saying that "The price of the 8G standard iPhone is set at about 2,400 yuan ($350, £212) and the 16G may be sold at 4,800 yuan." No mention was made of a 32GB model, nor of the long-rumored iPhone nano that some had expected would be China-bound.

Neither was there any indication of the ChiPhone's capabilities, but it's widely suspected that GPS support won't be among them, considering how strict the Chinese government is about such things.

Another unknown is access to the iPhone App Store. And if you think Apple is strict on censorship, they're loosey-goosey libertines when compared to the bureaucrats of Beijing.

As we reported last month, Apple faced an unexpected hurdle to its move into China when it was revealed that Beijing-based graphics tablet manufacturer Hanwang Technology owned the trademark on the name "i-phone." The IBT report didn't mention any settlement of that snafu, but we can only assume that 10bn yuan can buy quite a bit of grease.

During a conference call with analysts and reporters discussing the company's most recent financial performance, Apple's COO Tim Cook said about the China market, "It continues to be a priority project," he said, "and we hope to be there within a year."

If the IBT report is correct, 1.3 billion potential customers won't have to wait that long. ®

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