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).


I can’t believe it’s 2009.

Catherine and I spent this afternoon reviewing 2008 and talking about what we want to do in 2009.

For some reason, I often think of things in terms of threes. For 2008, I set the following three goals for work at New Channel.

1. Set and carry out a realistic budget.

2. Create a 3-5 year plan.

3. Improve management systems.

While we could have done better in all three areas, we did a fairly good job at accomplishing these three goals.

This afternoon I came up with the following three goals (or areas of focus) for next year in my work life:

1. Deal with the challenges and take advantage of the opportunities that come with more branch schools.

2. Effectively measure our marketing and sales activities.

3. Bring more standardization to our curriculum.

And in my personal life:

1. Keep in regular touch with friends and family.

2. Write more.

3. Exercise regularly.

Of course, there are many, many other things I want to do in 2009, but these are some areas I plan to focus on. Should be a fun year.

An Apology

Despite the fact that he is almost certain never to read this, I would like to use this forum to make a public apology to the Bank of China teller I yelled at yesterday.

Most people regard me as having a pretty good temper. I don’t get angry very often. But there are some things that set me off. One of them is conversations like this:

(This particular instance involved cashing a check, but I’ve had the same conversation regarding traveller’s checks and during other banking transactions.)

“Sign here.”

“I did.”

“Sign here.”

“I did.”

“No, sign your name one letter at a time.”

“Do you want me to sign my name or just write my name?”

“Sign your name one letter at a time.”


Gets me every time. Sorry.

(p.s. My first iPhone post!)

Where the Internet takes you…

I was sad to hear of Paul Newman’s death recently.

Somehow I came across this video of David Letterman’s tribute to Newman:

Obviously, I was very impressed by the story about the Volvo.

Then yesterday I came across this story elaborating on the Volvo.

I’m a big Jon Stewart fan, so I searched YouTube for “stewart letterman 95“, which brought me to this segment:

Well, it wasn’t the story about the Volvo, but it was entertaining. Also, I noticed that Alison Krause was scheduled to be on the show that night. They ran out of time, but Dave said that she would be on the show again at her earliest convenience.

I love Alison Krause, so… I did another search for “Letterman Alison Krause 95”, which brought me to this performance:

Absolutely amazing. I don’t think I’d heard her live performances from that period before, and I found this particular performance to have a beautiful, haunting, raw quality to it.

Then I noticed a link to a performance from 2007 in the “related videos” section, and I wanted to compare:

Still beautiful, and obviously more polished, but I prefer 1995.

Our Choice: Food or Inflation?

This CNN segment about the bailout is incredibly entertaining, terrifying and confusing.

The guy on the left reminds me of one of the bad guys from The Princess Bride, and the guy on the right reminds me of one of the guys from Upright Citizens Brigade.

Both of them describe very bleak futures.

Best quote: “We have to choose between whether or not we want to eat and whether or not we’re willing to have inflation.”

Part 1:

Part 2:

Random Olympic Notes

Hybrid Taxis

There are now hybrid taxis on the streets of Beijing! One type looks just like the regular taxis, and another is shaped more like a Subaru Outback. Before anyone gets too excited, though, they’ll be gone after the Olympics. Like a lot of stuff. “Beijing/China After the Olympics” will become a huge, huge topic over the next few weeks.

The Opening Ceremony

It was pretty spectacular. A bit too somber, though, I thought. We watched it on TV in our apartment, running to the windows every time fireworks went off. The fireworks were somewhat anticlimactic, though, because we’d watched the rehearsal from our window as well. I was hoping they were saving a bit more for the actual opening. Still spectacular, though.

Given the intense, intense anticipation domestically, the fact that not too many people have been complaining about the opening ceremony attests to just how spectacular it was.

Around our apartment, all businesses were forced to close at 2pm, and the street in front of our apartment was closed off to non-ticketed pedestrian traffic.

The Beijing Olympics Theme Song “You and Me”

Almost everyone I spoke to after the Opening Ceremony was very lukewarm towards the song.

Two days later, though, everybody is humming it.

This Guy

I fell asleep during the Opening Ceremony athlete’s parade, but I was hoping to determine which country’s flag this guy is using to direct pedestrian traffic. Maybe it’s not a national flag, but it sure looks like one.

This Thing

I have no idea what this is, but each subway station seem to have one. If I remember the name correcty, I think it’s a “Ball-shaped Anti-Explosion Device”, but I still don’t know what that is.


Thanks to Jake for linking to me. I’ll try to share any interesting things I see. I second his endorsement of James Fallows, whose most recent post is particularly great. For another perspective–this time from someone who is here just for the Olympics–check out Kevin Tresolini’s blog. He’s here covering the Olympics for Gannet and has been sharing his thoughts. The WSJ.Com China Journal is also a great source, and it tends to aggregate interesting things that other people have to say as well. Jake’s right that it’s very difficult to write about China, but it’s exciting that so many people are doing it now.

Also, Jake shares fascinating and exciting thoughts on topics including energy, social change, and a great project he’s working on at A More Perfect Market. At least three times a week.

The Countdown Clocks

There must be hundreds of Olympic countdown clocks spread out all over Beijing; they started appearing years ago and have been a marker of time passing here in Beijing. It seems like just the other day they were at several hundred days, and now they’re all at zero. I wonder how long they’ll leave them up.

There is hardly any place in Beijing (in any big city in China?) were you aren’t in sight of some sort of Olympic banner.

They hung these up outside of our apartment complex about a month before the Olympics started. At the time, I thought they should have waited, and that the white banners would turn black, but now I’m surprised at how white they’ve stayed.


Volunteers are everywhere. And they are wonderful. There are about 20 different types of volunteers, from City Volunteers to Public Safety Volunteers to Fire Safety Volunteers. The picture above is from late July, well before the Olympics started, when there were already volunteers stationed in every subway station. They were very excited to help anyone find where they wanted to go, but they often couldn’t find the place on the map either.

When I went to the airport in late July, the volunteers looked very bored, and had no one to help. So I went up to them and acted confused while pretending to speak a random European language. They were very helpful, and showed me to my gate.


Apparently, it’s been hard to get tickets. Not really surprising. Suppose that there are 2 million tickets. That means that if 1 in 5 Beijingers decides that they want to go to one event, there are not nearly enough tickets. Having purchased some tickets in the first round of sales last year, we decided to go to a couple of events, sell some tickets to friends, and sell some online. Shortly after selling our Gymnastics tickets to a friend, we received lots and lots of inquiries from Gymnastics fans who were desperate for tickets. A lot of people had been swindled by sites like beijingticketing.com (google it), which apparently sold more than 40 million USD in tickets and delivered none. The guy sitting at the table next to us at dinner on Sunday night had a family member who lost 30,000USD.

Perhaps worse than losing the money, imagine bringing your two gymnastics-loving daughters to Beijing for the Olympics and discovering that you had no tickets.

Post-Olympics Depression

I’m pretty sure that lots of people in China are going to get very depressed after the Olympics. The anticipation for the Olympics has been a little bit like the anticipation for Christmas for many children in western countries, except on a muchuch larger scale, fore a longer period of time, and with greater intensity. I think that Post-Olypmics Depression will become an officially recognized syndrome. Seriously.

Unity, Friendship, Struggle, Development

That’s what’s written in lights on the side of an underpass on the North Fourth Ring Road. I think it sums up a lot about China before, during and after the Olympics. Too tired too try and express why I think that, though.

Good night!

Stalking the Dream Team

Some of these pictures are just priceless. My favorite is the second one.

It’s on very different scale, but people sometimes want to take pictures with me after I give a lecture at a school, and very often they don’t really care whether I’m looking or not, or if I know the picture is being taken.

Of course, it’s not just Chinese kids who are stalking the Dream Team. Catherine’s American study abroad students are staying at Beijing Normal University, where most of the US Olympic Team is staying. I don’t think that the Men’s Basketball team is staying there, but one day they saw Kobe Bryant enter the dorm where the athletes are staying at BNU, and they staked out outside, figuring that if he had gone in he would have to come out.