The year China got smart

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The Independent Tech

2009: The year China fell in love with the smart phone.

After much to-ing and fro-ing, the mainland Chinese Government finally approved third generation (or 3G) mobile phone licenses at the beginning of 2009 - and the country has never quite been the same since.

There were seven million 3G users across the country by September, a drop in the ocean when you consider the government estimated in the same month that almost 720 million Chinese were mobile phone users. But it's a number that is predicted to top 16 million by the end of next year and to spiral to around 240 million users by 2012.

And the nation's three major mobile service providers - China Telecom, China Unicom and market leader China Mobile - are leading the push for smartphone technology.

Locally branded handsets are the norm in China where the market has been up until now more concerned with wireless services than hardware.

But 2009 did see the introduction of Apple's iPhone.

Released initially through China Unicom in October, Apple's little wonder met with a lukewarm response with just over 5,000 of the sets being sold in the first few days.

Industry analysts pointed to the price and to the lack of Wifi function, a move demanded by the Chinese Government which maintains strict controls over internet access.

An iPhone without a service contract costs as much as 6,999 yuan (699 euros) in China, compared with US$299 (204 euros) in the US.

But China Unicom has reported more recently that sales have past the 100,000 mark and is predicting a 10 percent market share within a few years.

Meanwhile, the Research in Motion company has announced this week it plans to develop a special version of the Blackberry for the Chinese market that will be sold by China Mobile "sometime in the next few months.'' Microsoft has also in the past few months released its "Windows Phone'' program for handsets featuring the Windows Mobile functions and China Mobile is planning to release an Ophone service based on Google's Android system.

But one problem so far might just be that the Chinese consumer is simply spoilt for choice. Twenty-six-year-old Beijinger Qui Xueying would agree.

"I was a little puzzled by the new brands such as iPhone, OPhone, GPhone, UPhone and Windows Phone that recently popped up, she told the China Daily newspaper.

"I think I will postpone the purchase until I can figure out what these ‘phones' are really about.''

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