China Unicom and Apple AAPL have reportedly signed an agreement to launch a specially-built version of the iPhone in China, perhaps as early as September.
The report, published Friday by China Business Network, credits Hon Hai — the world’s largest manufacturer of electronics components and Apple’s long-time partner — with helping broker the deal.
Under its terms, Hon Hai — using its tradename Foxconn — will build a special version of the iPhone for the Chinese market with Wi-Fi disabled, allowing Apple to get around Beijing’s restrictions on handsets with high-speed Internet capability.
“I believe we are at the beginning stages of a mobile revolution,” says iPhonAsia editor Dan Butterfield, who explored the implications of the deal Friday in a long Q&A with China’s Mobinode.tv (see below).
There were several independent reports last week that Hon Hai is already manufacturing the crippled iPhones — code named “model 90” — and that the China Telecommunication Technology Labs have begun mandatory testing.
Such tests are required by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology and usually take at least a month, which is why the phone is not expected to reach Chinese consumers much before September.
In his Mobinode Q&A, Butterfield draws a picture the size and nature of the potential market:
For the rest of Butterfield’s Mobinode interview, see here.
Photoshop credit: iPhonAsia.