iPhone in China

I started drooling when the iPhone was announced in 2007, and finally bought one in September of 2008. In this post I want to share some reflections on the iPhone itself, procuring and using an iPhone in China, and what i’d like to see in the new iPhone that will hopefully be announced (released?) on Monday.

iPhone in China

Part of the reason I delayed getting an iPhone for so long was that it wasn’t available in mainland China. There were hacks (jailbreaking the phone or messing with the SIM card), but they seemed like a hassle, and I worried about the phone being ‘bricked’ by a software update from Apple. Another factor was that I was using a CDMA number with China Unicom and would have had to switch numbers to use the GSM iPhone.

What finally convinced me to get one was the existence of ‘naturally unlocked’ iPhones sold in certain countries (or, um, territories/regions like Hong Kong). These phones were not tied to any carrier, and didn’t require any hijinks to use on the mainland.

The problem was that they cost a lot, and a new HK iPhone would have set me back more than 7000 RMB (more than a thousand USD). Fortunately, I was able to find a barely used HK phone for just over 4000 RMB, which is about how much a new, locked US phone would have cost.

I’ve been more than happy (what exactly is ‘more than happy’?) with how well the iPhone has worked in China.

-I switched to a China Mobile GSM number, and haven’t missed the spotty CDMA reception.

-One issue that some people might have is not being able access the App Store in the mainland, but my US iTunes account has worked fine here.

-China Mobile’s 3G network is TD-CDMA, which the iPhone doesn’t support, so my non-wi-fi Internet access has been limited to GPRS (or is it EDGE?) speeds. China Mobile’s data plans are 100RMB/month for 800 MB or 200RMB/month for 2GB, with total fees capped at 500RMB/month if you go over. I’m using the 800MB plan and despite fairly heavy usage I don’t think I’ve gone over. I’d love to have 3G speeds, but I’ve still found the slower network very usable.

China Unicom’s WCDMA network started it’s initial rollout in May in 50-some cities, and it should support the iPhone. It’s tempting to switch, but I’m going to wait until the network proves itself with a broader rollout before I consider switching numbers… again. I’m also tempted to wait until an official version of the iPhone comes out for the mainland market.

iPhone Impressions

Things I like/love

1. Online everywhere
It’s amazing how different it is to be connected to the Internet at all times. No more searching for am internet bar or an Ethernet plug while on the road just to check email.

2. SMS Conversations
So much of my personal and business communication happens via SMS, and I’ve always wanted to be able to keep a record of these conversations. Unfortunately, every other phone I’ve had has had a very small amount of memory for SMS messages, and deleting messages every few days was very irritating. The iPhone stores all of my SMS messages with each contact in a handy IM-style conversation view, so I have a complete archive off all my conversations and can look up what I’ve said in the past. This might sound very minor, but it’s probably my favorite feature.

3. The Interface in General
I love Mobile Safari, I love Photos, and I love the interface on general. I won’t go into detail because so many people already have. Downloaded applications I use daily include OmniFocus, iExpensIt, Twitterific, and Kindle if the book I’m reading is a Kindle book. I also use the Gmail and Google Reader daily in Mobile Safari.

Things I Don’t Like

1. Battery Life
My battery is almost always dead by the end of the day, so I usually find some time to have it charging during the day. A couple of days ago I had an early morning train ride and was using the phone pretty heavily on the train–it was giving me battery warnings before lunch.

2. Speed
The phone is too slow, and waiting for programs to load is annoying. This is especially true for quick-entry programs like Notes, OmniFocus and SMS. It also makes using the camera to capture moments very frustrating.

3. 128 MB of RAM
Particularly with just GPRS download speeds, it’s annoying when switching to another web page makes the page that I was just looking at disappear. When I switch back to it I have to wait for the whole thing to download again.

Things I’d Like to See in the Next iPhone

The first three are tied directly to the things I don’t like:

1. Faster Processor
2. Substantially Longer Battery Life
3. More RAM

John Gruber seems convinced that these three are probably going to happen (except for maybe the batter life).

4. An option to send an email with links to all of Safari’s open pages.
This may sound silly, but I often find myself wanting to send four or five articles that I have open on the iPhone to my computer to read, and sending them one by one is tedious.

We’ll see what happens on Monday. The thing I’m most curious about is whether or not a mainland China version of the iPhone will be announced. This guy (who seems to know everything about the iPhone in China), seems to think that it’s coming soon, perhaps with some of the preloaded standard apps being replaced by their Chinese counterparts (e.g., Youku for YouTube).

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  1. Wow, great article. I was under the impression, however, that you could buy unlocked iPhones in the states for $600, and with a contract is $200.

    I’m looking forward to getting one of the new iPhones when they come out – hopefully starting to write some apps. I’ll be looking for guidance from 王总 when that happens.

  2. I think they weren’t offering the unlocked phones yet. The unlocked ones were 299 for the 16GB model, and there was something like a $175 fee for canceling the contract (I think you also had to pay for one month of service). They were also somewhat scarce back then, so that upped the price to over 4000 RMB for a new phone. (Hmm… Looks like the prices are still that high on Taobao.)

    Looks like the prices on the HK phones have gone down substantially, though: http://search1.taobao.com/browse/0/n-g,nfygq33omuqdgzzage3goyraxdn3bzq—————-40–commend-0-all-0.htm?at_topsearch=1&ssid=e-s5

    I’m also very tempted by the new phone (mostly because of the speed and the video), but I think I’ll wait until a China version comes. Can’t wait for the prairiedogg apps to start coming out! I better be on the beta tester list. 🙂

  3. Hi John, found this quite interesting but was wondering if there was any updates on the use of iphone and connectivity etc?
    I am due to move to Tianjin near Beijing in August and unfortunately I have just taken out a new contract with my supplier here which got me the iphone as part of it. The contract is not a problem but I want to know what is my best option to use iphone as I love it now and don’t want to give it up! Should I just buy a new contract when I come over and get a phone then, or bring my current phone and get it unlocked and then buy a sim, really confused and need help figuring it out. Thanks.

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