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Apple's no-news Beijing event leaves it adrift in China

So much for the idea Cupertino wants to conquer the developing world

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Updated Apple’s Beijing iPhone event on Wednesday has just ended with no new announcements for a market it desperately needs to succeed in, and prices for the new 5C higher than Americans will pay for the high-end 5S.

The fruity tech titan was rumoured to be ready to announce a long-awaited tie-up with China Mobile, the world’s largest carrier by subscribers, which would have given it access to the firm’s 700 million customers.

However, in pokey looking room in Beijing, all the local hacks were treated to was a re-run of Apple’s official launch in the US a few hours earlier.

Bloomberg’s Edmond Lococo said Apple representatives at the event would not be drawn on a potential China Mobile tie-up, tweeting the following:

Whether that China Mobile deal is still on the cards remains to be seen. The new iPhone 5C and 5S do support the TD-LTE standard that the carrier helped to develop, so an alliance is at least plausible.

China Telecom and China Unicom, which have about 30 per cent of the world’s largest smartphone market, will carry the new iPhones, but Apple has stuck to its guns on pricing and offered little hope for budget shoppers – where analysts believe much of the real growth will come in markets like India and China.

According to its China website, the low cost multi-coloured iPhone 5C will be available for between 4,488 and 5,288 yuan ($733-864, £466-549).

This compares pretty unfavourably to local hero Xiaomi’s newest handset, the Tegra 4-powered Mi-3 at 1,999 yuan ($326, £207) and is even more than a US punter would pay for an unlocked 5S ($649-849).

Without a China Mobile deal it could mean that Apple’s chances of success in the Middle Kingdom are more reliant on grey market sales.

Although the parallel launch of the new models in China and the US, Hong Kong, UK and other countries on September 20th will mean missed opportunities for smugglers to exploit a spike in demand in the PRC, there will still be high demand for handsets which haven’t been subject to the huge taxes which make them so pricey in China.

In light of Apple’s pricing, market watcher IHS iSuppli said it was unwilling to upgrade its forecast for overall iPhone shipments in the second half of the year, predicting a 15 per cent year-on-year increase of 86.1m.

However, it claimed that “one factor that could cause IHS to boost its 2013 iPhone forecast is if China Mobile decides to offer the iPhone 5C and iPhone 5S”.

It could be that China Mobile is waiting until its 4G network is up and running before any announcement is made, according to Forrester analyst Bryan Wang, although this won't be until the end of the year at the earliest.

He told The Reg he was “really surprised” at the high price for the 5C, arguing that China prices are normally 17-19 per cent higher than those in Hong Kong, but that the 5C’s were 25-30 per cent greater than those in the SAR.

“The primary reason for the pricing is Apple testing the water to see how much premium consumers want to pay for its products,” he added.

“They’re leaving room to lower the price after a couple of months – it’s something they’ve done with retail pricing before with the iPhone 4.”

However, as it stands, local players like Lenovo, Huawei and Meizu will be "really relieved", Wang said.

Elsewhere in APAC, there were more positive signs for Apple.

Japan’s largest carrier NTT Docomo is finally on board, and will offer the new handsets on September 20th, while in India Bloomberg noted that Apple has not put up its prices, despite the huge decline in the value of the rupee.

Given arch-rival Samsung has already been forced to do so, it could yet snare more customers here. ®

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