How Do You Say 'iPhone' in Mandarin?

After more than a year of rumors and speculation it has finally been confirmed that the iPhone will be coming to China -- to the number two carrier there, China Unicom. It was announced formally today in an earnings release:

On 28 August, the Company and Apple reached a three-year agreement for the Company to sell iPhone in China. The initial launch is expected to be in the fourth calendar quarter of 2009. This will provide users with brand new communication and information experience.

China has three operators: China Mobile, China Unicom and China Telecom, which are just now building out their 3G networks. China Unicom lags far behind the dominant carrier China Mobile. But even small success in China, which has a relatively small smartphone market today, will mean big numbers for the iPhone. 

There are almost 700 million mobile users in China, more than 2X the US population as a whole. China Unicom reportedly has roughly 140 million subscribers. The largest US carrier Verizon has 87.7 million mobile subscirbers. China Mobile, the largest carrier there, has roughly 500 million. 

Reportedly China Unicom has agreed to buy 5 million iPhones as part of its three year exclusive deal. Wifi will be disabled (as is currently the case across the industry in China).

China Mobile will have two Android-based phones to compete with Unicom's iPhone, including the Dell Mini 3i

Apple reported that it had sold 45 million iPhone and iPod Touch devices globally (80 countries). That breaks down to 26.4 million iPhones and 18.6 iPod Touch devices. About 25 million of those devices are in the US and the rest abroad. The 25 million US figure is divided as follows (per AdMob): 13 million iPhones and 12 million iPod Touch units. 

Picture 61

China/Asia could move into second position on this chart if the iPhone succeeds in China. Imagine the potential Chinese apps market.

___

Related: Here's additional color and analysis from the Wall Street Journal