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Siri bones up on Mandarin for iPhone 4S China launch

Apple and Nokia jockey in Chinese mobe market

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The Chinese will be able to buy an iPhone 4S from 13 January and should be able to speak to it too as Apple flings the shiny mobe into 90 countries.

Despite not being officially available, the iPhone 4S is selling in China – unlocked and imported models are sold in shops that look awfully like Apple Stores. China Mobile has more than seven million iPhones on its network despite the lack of official availability. But this announcement brings official support and convinced Siri to speak the local language in a market that even Apple can't ignore.

Cupertino hasn't confirmed which 3G standard the Chinese variant of the iPhone will support. China Unicom, the country's smallest network (with a mere 170 million subscribers) runs a W-CDMA network onto which an iPhone 4S would happily roam. But China Mobile (the largest, with a whopping 620 million subs) uses the proprietary TD-SCDMA technology, restricting the seven million iPhone users already on the network to 2G speeds.

That may not matter much these days, with Wi-Fi being so widespread, so it seems unlikely Apple will be manufacturing a special spin of the handset just for China Mobile.

Nokia has also been focusing on China lately, first by recruiting a new CEO for China, and now Marketwatch reports that Nokia is relocating its Asian central office from Singapore to Beijing. This is apparently to put the biz closer to its manufacturers, but one can't help noticing that it puts the Finns in the middle of an important market too.

Nokia is still the leading smartphone platform in China – as it is in the rest of the world thanks to its first-mover advantage with Symbian – but just like everywhere else, that lead is under attack from Android and Apple. Maintaining that position as the company shifts to Windows Phone 7 will be very hard indeed, especially now the iPhone 4S will be on the shelves. ®

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